Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Devotion 4.30.15

From Nolan Ryan's biography:

"Perseverance is rooted in the belief that discipline, hard work, patience, faith, and time will overcome all obstacles.  It exemplifies Nolan Ryan to a tee.

His work ether is a product of his perseverance, and the major credit for it goes to his Depression-era parents, who instilled in him the belief that work was a privilege.

Perseverance is also the result of a lifetime of good habits.  For Ryan, those habits began at an early age in downtown Alvin....  From ages eight to 18, Nolan and his dad wrapped newspapers from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., seven mornings a week. After going home for a brief nap, Nolan went to school where he lettered in two sports... for Ryan, it laid the foundation for his impeccable habits."  (Rob Goldman.  Nolan Ryan. The Making of a Pitcher.  Triumph Books, Chicago - 2014)

Nolan Ryan - Hall of Fame Pitcher;  Banker; Rancher; Businessman; and now works again for the Houston Astros. More importantly, husband to one wife - Ruth, father, grandfather

Paul writes:  "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith in this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, be we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God ha pour out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5:1 - 5)

Do you have to be Nolan Ryan to obtain these kinds of life lessons?  Do we have to be Paul to obtain the gift of faith and the characteristics that he identifies in our faith walk?

Pray that God shape us and use us as his own.  Pray that we have the discipline necessary to have a walk that reflects our own discipline and perseverance.  Pray for that forgiveness when we stumble.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Devotion 4.29.15

A baseball fan is highly superstitious, just as the sport itself is.  Baseball people don't use words like kharma (a popular word these days).  Instead, they speak of a "streak."  He has a hitting streak, a home run streak, or the team has a winning streak.  The pitcher has a streak as well, scoreless innings, strikeouts per game, wins.  So, we do things to not disrupt the streak.  Wear the same clothes.  Not shave.  Eat the same foods. It is all very rational.  Baseball metrics types are there to ruin myth.  You say a player seems to be better this year over last, and they will develop a quantifiable formula that make all statisticians in every profession proud and disprove your assumption.

I read a piece recently in a journal dedicated to the baseball metrics types (sabermatricians - Society of American Baseball Research [SABR] + metrics gives you that term) in which they set out to prove if Mike Royko's (former Chicago Tribune writer/editorialist and Cub baseball fan) assertions was true.  His assertion was this:  Any team that has three or more Chicago Cub players on it will not win a championship or post-season play berth.  The metrics people went to work on this, but they speak like this:  Assertion (theory).  Formulas to be used to test the theory (how they intend on proving or disproving it).  Methodology for selection of a statistical sampling (which teams that will be looked at in this article). Analysis (painful as it is to read, it can be interesting).  Results.

It turned out that Mike Royko's assertion, as he sat in the press boxes with his colleagues chewing on a cigar, was correct.  The Cubs take their bad luck with them, and any team that allows three or more to congregate in their ranks has given themselves the kiss of death.  The opposite, then, is true of the Houston Astros.  Former Astros have gone on to other teams to provide that catalyst necessary to develop into a great team.  The Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s would be one with Cesar Geronimo, Joe Morgan, and a few others tossed in via a big trade).  The Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Steve Finley, and Luis Gonzalez) and more recently the Philadelphia Phillies.  As a group of superstitious people, these kinds of things can influence decisions despite that rationally, you may say, "These three guys we can trade for are great in their respective positions.  Snap them up!"  Wait a minute, you know the old saying....

The disciples, mostly fishermen and from the sea, were a superstitious lot as well.  Here they were under Christ's mentorship, learning through his lessons, healings and through his own words personally, and yet as they are on the lake (Mark 6:45 - 56 and the lake is also the Sea of Galilee), winds come up and make rowing difficult.  "About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake.  He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost.  They cried out because they all saw him and were terrified.  Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage!  It is I.  Don't be afraid."

What are our "superstitions?"  Not do something good enough in God's eyes?  Do something that resulted in God punishing you with something?  Maybe you would have gotten that job, raise, better crop, sale, or a healthier child if you had only been "better?"  When do they rise up as we go through our daily walks?  Do we turn to Christ immediately or attempt to struggle against the storm?  Pray that we focus on Christ and that we pay attention to his words, "Take courage!  It is I.  Don't be afraid."

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, April 27, 2015

Devotion 4.28.15

I had a couple of friends in childhood, a set of twins, who were my best friends through junior high.  Their dad, affectionately called "Old Man," was an off-shore crane operator in the Gulf of Mexico for Brown and Root.  He was, in a phrase, a "man's man."  Older (the twins were the youngest of seven children), "Old Man" was gone so much that I remember there being a period where I had never met him.  "He's off shore," they would tell me.  When I finally met him, he was intimidating, sitting in the back, smoking a Camel filterless cigarette, and sipping Budweiser, he gave out a kind-of grunt when I met him (later in life he became the only man I would hug and kiss in a greeting other than my father).

"Old Man" was a Marine in World War II, and while every war has an especially cruel and dangerous side to it, run a search through Google sometime and see the casualties and deaths in battles throughout Europe and the Pacific of Marines (battles like Guadelcanal or Iwo Jima).  We lost more Marines in a day in those battles than we have lost American lives since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  "Old Man" held court at times, and when I was in college and working with "Old Man" at Brown and Root on the port, the topics became more manly than they had been in my childhood.  "Old Man" wasn't much into politics or economics.  He lived by the simple code of taking care of self and family.  And, "Old Man" wasn't much into religion too.  Our first venture into that topic came one summer day in the sweltering heat in his back yard around a picnic table when I finally asked after many years of knowing the family what faith he was.  "Don't have one," he said looking around (and puffing a Camel filterless).  "Don't have to go to church to be with God, I can be with him sitting right here - talking to you.  He's here.  I can know God without having to go to church."

Here is what I hear today when I hear that.  "Church can be intimidating.  You people make it hard, not a great and friendly place to be for the unchurched.  Sometimes you talk down to people.  And either you or God has to get better at math because you are always in need of more money because you ask for it all the time.  And really, I may just be looking for a reason to say I don't want to go."  Now, I would have never said that to "Old Man," but were I around any "Old Man" in our midst, that sensitivity would be present.  "Make sure he's comfortable.  Baby steps, at least he came today.  Show an interest in him.  Take off the tie and toss it in a pocket somewhere.  Introduce him to people, and really, find a few folks like him who he might connect with."

Manly men don't like feeling vulnerable or appearing weak.  In our study last week, we came up with two words after our reading that are characteristics of us as created in God's image (Genesis 1) that aren't necessarily what we think of as we think of "masculinity."  Sacrifice and selfless.  Looking for a leader who is sensitive and selfless, go to Nehemiah.  A servant to a king, Nehemiah is a leader in his own right as he looks at the ruin that was once Jerusalem.  Nehemiah humbles himself to the king (keeping the greater vision in mind) and asks for permission to restore.  This sets in motion a series of measures and counter-punches as he works to restore Jerusalem and the sacred temple while dealing with complaining and negativity.  Nehemiah makes a sacrifice of time and possibly reputation to restore the temple and God's house to greatness for the people of Israel.  His actions were selfless.

How do we do the same?  How do we sacrifice and show selflessness with Christ, our wives, our children, our neighbors?  How do we give of our time and talent (and treasure) rather than use it ourselves for ourselves?

Humility, patience, sacrifice, selfless, leadership, forgiving - God's traits given to us as we were created in his own image.  Pray that God give you that ability to be masculine in a spiritual sense in a world that views masculinity in an earthly sense. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Weekend Devotion 4.24.15

Perhaps the male is under assault politically and all things masculine that accompany that are as well.  Jim Harbaugh said recently that he loved the game of football (under attack) because it is the last place (or bastion) of masculinity.  As we learned in our men's devotion Wednesday night, the act of "Googling" the word masculinity brings up a host of items when the search is concluded.  Rodney Gurley, who led the discussion, found a link that gave terms commonly used to describe masculinity and femininity. 

Masculine:  independent, non-emotional, aggressive, tough-skinned, competitive, clumsy, experienced, strong, active, self-confident, sexually aggressive, rebellious.

Feminine:  dependent, emotional, passive, sensitive, quiet, graceful, innocent, weak, flirtatious, nurturing, sexually submissive, accepting

God's Word?  Yesterday we discussed that God created "all of them, male and female" in His image and two words we discovered were:  humble and nurturing.  So, a man of God, striving to be "Christ-like" can see humble and nurturing as two qualities to work toward.

What else?  Strength is certainly a quality of God.  We see his in Psalm 27:1, "The Lord is my stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"  We also read in Joshua 1:9, "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  Yet this strength is a spiritual strength given from following Christ and literally practicing "thy will be done."  The men that night referred to that as "leadership."  We take the lead in depending on God for guidance for ourselves, our families, our church.

In Philippians 4:6 -7, we see Paul instruct us to "not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  From that, we concluded "patience."

Humble, nurturing, leadership, patience. There are more, but as we look at these qualities, we learn that as men of Christ, our qualities of masculinity are really qualities of being formed in the very nature of God.  Our masculinity is not defined in earthly terms, but rather in Godly terms.

Pray for Christ to enable you to achieve these qualities as together we walk here on earth.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Devotion 4.23.15

Masculinity.  Is masculinity under assault in this nation and the world, more specifically men, or is our 20th century definition beginning to return to a more normal definition?  We moved from a society of work in the 19th century and through the first half of the 20 century to one of leisure after World War II (due to several factors).  Our leisure time, coupled with radio and television led to a rise in sports and sports viewing, and the male became the gladiator of sorts in various sports endeavors.  Movies changed the persona of men as well as masculinity in early war movies and westerns took steroids in the 1980s with in a spate of movies about cops, bad guys, war, and such that featured men like Rambo and a host of others.  Modern medicine and training gave rise to the changes in the body.  Gone are the days when a man, 6'2" and 200 lbs. was considered a Goliath, just look at the average male on the line of any major university or professional team.  Sport contracts, reflecting larger audiences on tv and radio (and cable, satellite, and internet), were astronomical compared to a short period of time (1960s and early 70s they were still fairly modest) ago, and the men went from competitors who were among us to idols (yes, idols) worshipped for their lives on and off the field..

Traditional roles are now changing.  Men are losing ground according to data from Gallup and the Census in terms of being the traditional "bread winner" of the family.  More women are obtaining college degrees than men and the number of marriages is declining (recent George Will editorial) as women choose to live, and give birth to children, as single or in a single parent environment.  Bullying, once thought a rite of passage (it's what made you tougher)  is now under scrutiny and it seems as though those things we associated with masculinity are declining as well.  As a consequence, we see the role of men in the church under assault as well as social issues find their way into the church.  So, is it a natural transition from perhaps a bloated reality of what "a real man" is or is it an assault?

What does scripture tell us about "masculinity?"  Scripture doesn't really say what it means to be a "real man," but it does tell us about the qualities of God and Christ and God's desires for men in the context of the church and the family.  As men, we discussed this recently in our church.  What are the traits of God that we should strive to emulate?  God in Genesis creates, and he creates intentionally and carefully.  As he designs man, and later woman, we see a nurturing God who created us in his own image (Genesis 1:26 and 27).  We know he knows us as his creations just as intimately, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart." (Jeremiah 1:5)  Nurturing is a Godly quality and not one modern men are necessarily described with.  We know Christ was a humble servant.  As Paul writes, "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Philippians 4:8)  Humility - not necessarily a "manly quality."

Over the next couple of days we will examine what it means to be a "man of Christ," which may not necessarily align with our worldly view of what a "real man" is.  Pray that we follow Christ as men, and that our traits are Christ-like.  Pray that we not allow culture or expectations of this world to define what it means to be a "man of Christ."

Hope Men's Ministy

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Devotion 4.22.15

Journey has become a word we have used to describe our life on earth.  Our journey includes joy, sadness, hardships, love, loss, learning, experiences and other such descriptors for our life as we live it.  How and why do we do what we do during our time here? 

As we go along the continuum of life, we do what we do, and those experiences become our sum total.  So as we are on this journey, how do we use those experiences?  David, in Psalm 124, describes this pilgrimage in life this way, "If the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us, the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away.  Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.  We have escaped like a bird from the fowler's snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.  Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." (2 - 8) 

David speaks in vivid imagery of Israel and its journey which is parallel with our own.  Yes, good happens, but we seem to constantly be fending off those things that could have torn us apart, including ourselves.  Paul says it this way in Romans 7, "For what I want to do I do not do but what I hate I do.... Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ!" (15, 24 and 25)

David says, "Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.... May the Lord bless you from Zion." (Psalm 128:1 and 5). Paul says, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Christ Jesus!"  Where do we turn along our journey?  To whom do we seek guidance, truth, the right path?  Our journey on earth is temporary, but we are here for a reason and purpose.  To whom do we go to seek that purpose as we are on our journey? 

Pray that we seek God's guidance and will along our path on this journey, this pilgrimage.  Pray that we fulfill our purpose here on earth as men - husbands, fathers, brothers, friends - men of Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, April 20, 2015

Devotion 4.21.15

Yesterday saw the 119th running of the Boston Marathon, the second after the terrorist bombing that killed several and saw hundreds (200+) injured.  The marathon is the pinnacle of a runner's world (those who run marathons), and over 30,000 participated in the event yesterday according to its website.  Because of the bombing, security was increased exponentially along the route.  The winners ran times that might, I repeat MIGHT, have been the halfway point for me in the few I ran (past tense).

The writer, George Sheehan, was perhaps one of the more gifted writers in my opinion.  Sheehan, a doctor, wrote about running specifically, but he wrote of the philosophy of running more so than the technical side.  In a speaking engagement at a Unitarian Church once, an audience member said what question would he have at the end of life (he died of cancer a few years after the event in fact).  The title of the article in the December 1995 "Runner's World" was his answer.  Turning to the altar, he looked up and asked, "Did I win?  Is this enough?" 

His writing and analysis are fantastic by earthly terms, and they were interesting to me:  "I wonder if I've played well enough to win.  When Robert Frost was in his 60s, he expressed much the same though: 'I am no longer concerned with good and evil.  What concerns me is whether my offering will be acceptable.'"  He goes on further with my favorite line in the article:  "Life is a handicap event, and a winner may finish deep in the pack.  Each one of us has everything we need to be a winner."

"Dr. Sheehan, I'd like to introduce you to Paul," would have been my response.  Paul was clearly a man of the world and in 1 Corinthians, we learn of some of his life outside the faith.  He clearly enjoyed the Greco-Roman world as he used an Olympic analogy about our journey we call life.  "Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercise self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So, I do not run aimlessly..." (1 Cor 9:24 - 26)

Life is most certainly a handicap event.  Paul and Dr. Sheehan acknowledge and use the marathon as the example.  A race of attrition as heat, lack of water, poor training, and perhaps a lack of knowing about running in that kind of event can all disqualify you.  However, as followers of Christ (and not of Dr. Sheehan), we obtain the imperishable in our journey - salvation.  We don't need to turn to the altar and ask Christ, "Did I win?"  As he assures us in John 3, "...whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."  He provides that victory for us.  No offering, only belief.

Pray for that belief daily and share with others to help them on this journey as well.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 4.20.15

Jordan Spieth.  That is a name most of us recognize now after his Master's victory two weekends ago.  Spieth seems to be respected and respectable. When most athletes leave their respective sports from the college level to go pro, we make comments of doubt more often than not.  Spieth, on the other hand, has been blessed with an ability to appear humble, gracious, and well-mannered which has served him well on his decision to leave UT at 19 to pursue the PGA.  He's come close on several occasions (one week earlier in Houston in fact), but when he finally won a tournament and a major, he did so in dramatic fashion.  The only other name to appear with those numbers is Tiger Woods.

It is said that Spieth will not do for golf what Woods did.  Woods brought in an entirely new view to golf which popularized the sport unlike any other golfer before.  Spieth, if he maintains his current persona, will probably have his followers, but they are already within the game.  I was personally saddened when Tiger's life, personal and professional, crumbled, but I am reminded that we seem to like to watch the mighty fall.  Regardless of circumstances (Tiger has those who have no sympathy for him to those who would like to see him do well), when Tiger fell, it was with a boom! and not just a whimper.

So, what will Spieth's journey be?  It has yet to be written and is a blank slate in his short life to date.  Fortunately, in Christian terms, we don't have to talk in such ways.  Our journey begins when it begins.  Some are brought to faith early, baptized by their parents and receiving the Spirit's gift of faith in Christ Jesus, for it is the Spirit that writes that faith on our hearts.  Some arrive later in life, yet we all benefit in that decision.  Is that fair?  To God, it is his righteousness that determines "what is fair." 

In Luke 15, we see two sons.  One young and irresponsible, he wants his share of the inheritance early and goes to party like there literally were no tomorrow.  The older son, the responsible one, stays with the father and works.  When the younger one exhausts his money and eats what he's feeding the pigs, realizes what he had with the father and returns telling his father he is "no longer worthy to be called your son." (21)  The father's reaction is different.  He is over-joyed and orders a feast and fine clothing.  The older son is angered by this, so the father tells him, "What's mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive;  he was lost, and is found." (31 - 32)

Where are we on our journey with Christ?  What about others we know?  Where are they?  If they are lost, we pray that they be found, and perhaps serve as that vessel to bring them to Christ.  If they are on the journey with us, do we encourage them and hold one another accountable?  Do we treat each other in that love Christ showed us?  Pray that we do.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Devotion 4.16.15

When do we forgive?  When is it timely for us to forgive?  Do we forgive even though we may not be healed?  Maya Angelou, the African American poet, talks of forgiveness this way:  "It is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive."

She also talked of love and forgiveness this way, "You can't forgive without loving.  And I don't mean sentimentality.  I don't mean mush.  I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, 'I forgive.  I'm finished with it.'"  What did she need to forgive?  A rape at an early age (eight years old) and growing up in the Jim Crow South, overcoming adversity at all levels. 

Forgiveness of others and Angelou mentions forgiveness of self.

I've known several professional grudge holders in life, among them my own mother.  We could be talking about an event that happened in 1975, with it being 2005, and she could instantaneously generate more anger about that event now than may have even been present then.  Forgiveness.  Letting go.  Letting go means healing.  Healing means moving on.

Jesus instructs us on forgiveness frequently, perhaps most meaningfully while on the cross.  In Luke 23, he looks at the crowd, casting lots on his garments and mocking him, and asks God to "forgive them."  "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (34)

That simple?  But I don't deserve forgiveness, we may say to ourselves.  "What they did doesn't deserve forgiveness," we may say.  "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us," he instructs us in the Lord's Prayer.

Forgiveness of self and of others is that first step toward healing. 

While it may be difficult at times, we pray that we follow Christ's example and that forgiveness be instantaneous.  We pray that Christ give us the capacity to release the anger and hate that can be generated towards ourselves or others when we feel as though we have done wrong or been wronged. Finally, we pray that forgiveness start the healing process.

We pray for that "peace of God that passes all understanding."

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Devotion 4.15.15

In the world of strategic planning, one component of the strategic plan that we work to develop is known as "Parameters."  Parameters are an agreement for the organization in terms of how it agrees to operate with all the stakeholders.  Examples of "parameters" that have been developed are as follows:  "We will promote a culture of accountability and respect;" "We will practice open and honest communication while respecting the privacy of individuals;" or, "The needs of the students are the first consideration when making decisions."

These provide guidelines for operations that cannot be violated.  When the organization reaches agreement with regard to the final plan, these principles become parameters that will be honored in each and every endeavor.

The apostles provide such for us as they handle early conflict in the church in Acts 6. "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  And the twelve summoned the full number of disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore pick from you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased the whole gathering and they chose.... (seven men including Stephen)." (6:1-5)

The apostles created priorities of sorts.  This is instructive for us.  First, the most important thing we do is the mission - spreading the word.  That is our calling.  Secondly, your concern is important, but it isn't teaching and preaching the Word.  Here is a solution:  Find some people who can accommodate your concern, but (and here is the key), they need to follow these parameters - good repute, full of the Spirit, and wisdom.  So, the mission is integral to a decision followed by parameters.

When we engage in conflict, stemming from building a better mousetrap to settling a dispute, what are our priorities?  Have we articulated those?  Do we have parameters for how we engage each other and the issues?  Families, groups, teams, organizations, corporations, and church bodies can all benefit by adapting this model.

Pray we place our main focus on the mission of the church.  Pray we also articulate how we want to address the issue, each other, and potential solutions.  Conflict can sharpen us if we handle it correctly.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, April 13, 2015

Devotion 4.14.15

Pat Riley, after "three-peating" in the 1980s with the Los Angeles Lakers (three championships in a row), did what all coaches do.  He decided we all wanted to know his winning formula as head coach and wrote a book. During the course of the book in the early chapters, he talked about conflict.  He not only allowed it, he encouraged it up to and including physical altercations because, as he viewed it, these allowed for a pecking order to be established among egos which led to leaders emerging.  As a principal of an elementary school, I hardly saw this as an option to develop leadership on the campus.  Yet we do acknowledge that "iron sharpens iron." (Proverbs 27:17)

In the passage from Acts 6, we see how the apostles handled conflict and used it to strengthen the Christians in that day.  The model is useful for families, groups, teams, organizations, corporations and especially churches. 

"Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  And the twelve summoned the full number of disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore pick from you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased the whole gathering and they chose.... (seven men including Stephen)." (6:1-5)

A second lesson from this passage (yesterday's lesson being identifying the conflict and dealing with it) is this:  The apostles spoke the truth in love to a crowd and elevated the conversation.  When the complaint rose to their level (when and how it rose to that level isn't told), they dealt with it, but their response is interesting.  "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables."  In other words, they did several things by framing their response that way:  acknowledge the problem and not minimize it, elevate it to the mission level of the church, and speak in truth.

It is clear that the church at that time respected the role of the apostles to the point that they could say, "This is what we do and why we are here."  It is clear that an air of love and respect dwelt within the church for them to respond in what appears to be a blunt manner.  And they placed the issue into a mission framework - the church is about spreading the word.  Caring for others is important, but can be done by others because our role is about the mission of the church.

When we come into conflict, are we equally equipped for the task as the apostles were?  Can we speak in truth and love with one another?  Do we look at the issue as it relates to the mission of the church?  How does this translate into families and other places we find ourselves (work, teams, friends)?

We pray for this clarity and for this love as we grow together in Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Devotion 4.13.15

At some point in life, it is inevitable that you or I will fall headlong into a conflict.  It is built into our nature as sinful human beings.  The conflict can be between two individuals, families, a group of people, an organization, a corporation, a team, and even (and most certainly) within a church.  Conflict, handled correctly, can strengthen the relationship as is reflected in the proverb, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." (27:17)  Iron can only sharpen iron when the two come together against the other.  So, it can be done positively as when a knife slides against the sharpener, or it can be in hostility as on the field of battle.

We are, for a variety of reasons, told that Matthew 18 is a guide from Christ that instructs us on conflict.  This is true, to a degree, but the passage starts with Christ saying, "If your brother sins against you." (18:15)  Conflict can be between two righteous parties, and isn't necessarily about "sin" against one another.  Yet what is instructive in the Matthew 18 passage is Christ instructs us further in the passage, "...go and tell him his fault between you and him alone."  So, whether in sin or in conflict, go to your brother and talk to him out of love for one another.

A better place to go to view the handling of conflict is in Acts 6 which will be the basis for us through the week.  In Acts 6, we read the following:  "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  And the twelve summoned the full number of disciples and said, 'It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore pick from you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' And what they said pleased the whole gathering and they chose.... (seven men including Stephen)." (6:1-5)

Today, our first glance at this passage teaches us one important fact about conflict.  When the complaint came to the apostles, they did not shy away from it or ignore it.  How do we "shy" away from conflict?  We can ignore it and hope it goes away.  We can find blame for the existence of the conflict within others, not ourselves, and we can cast aspersions about the issue on to others to distance ourselves from this issue.  Not only can we find blame, we can fix blame on others as well like Adam in the Garden when God asked why he ate of the fruit - "That woman you gave me..." he began (Genesis 3:12). What we read in this passage is that as soon as the complaint found its way to the apostles, they made no excuses but called the problem to the attention of the assembly.

So, we pray we take ownership in conflicts that arise and that we don't allow it the situation to fester until it becomes sinful or unhealthy.  In our marriages, in our friendships, in our relationships, our work and within our church, we speak volumes in terms of how we address each other at all times.  We also pray that everything we do is out of love for one another.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, April 6, 2015

Devotion 4.7.15

Why are people allowed to suffer and why do people suffer?  That seems to be a popular question, but the truth is our lives, at some point, intersect with suffering.  Sometimes this suffering is at our own hands.  As a principal in a large public school, my office was the place of confessions by staff, parents, kids.  If there is a country song to be written about a pain, malady, self-inflicted wounds, a dismal situation or some other form of suffering, I could write it because I've heard it (or done it myself).  The worse situations were physical abuse of a spouse and child because that number grows geometrically based on the number of children in the relationship. Each becomes a potential abuser as they become adults. 

It goes on from there.  "Husband got busted the other night with marijuana/cocaine/drunk... so Jimmy might not really be doing well in class today...."

Then there is suffering as victim.  A disease that claims a life early or in the middle of life.  Suffering that comes from illness as we age, which our own behavior may or may not have been responsible for.

The question as we sat in our offices, most of us Christians, was why such things happened?  Why does God allow it?  "How can God stop it?" I asked one time.  God gave us choice in the garden and even in a state of perfection, we chose poorly, so now on this side in a state of sin-filled imperfection, how do you stop it unless you just clean the slate, toss aside the creation gone awry, and start from scratch? (And clearly by our faith we know God has a plan we call Judgment Day for just that.)

As we examined favorite verses, one came to mind that I go to from time to time when I've pulled the gun and put a bullet through my own foot.  Romans 5:1 - 5:  "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith in this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;  And character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."  Suffering from our own hands, from others, from disease, pain, and even suffering because of our faith through persecution.

God did clean the slate through his Son Jesus Christ.  The clean slate gives us hope in our suffering because of this faith we now proclaim. So, as we suffer, we turn our eyes to Christ in prayer, his Word, and through worship and praise of Christ. He comes to us in the sacraments and "delivers us from evil."

Our suffering, regardless of its source (namely sin), is temporary.  Christ is eternal.  We pray that Christ deliver us from evil and suffering, but we also pray to follow his perfect will in our lives.  We pray for strength in our sufferings which builds us and gives us hope.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Devotion 4.6.15

Yesterday, the new commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, was interviewed on "Meet the Press." (Thank you Sunrise Service for getting me home in time to see it.)  He was asked about the state of baseball on "opening day," and specifically, he was asked about the dismal TV ratings of the last World Series.  How to get baseball back in popularity?  The answer wove its way through several points, landing on getting all youth, including minorities, involved in baseball again.  "Best of luck," I thought (My apologies to those who enthusiastically give their valuable time and energy and positively impact their own children and others through Little League.  I realize it can be a positive experience as was my own son's.). 

He may be commissioner of MLB, but MLB has no control over Little League, the dominant ruler of youth baseball.  Beginning in 1938, Little League's founder Carl Stotz began to conceptualize a league for baseball for youth that would capture the best about the sport - teamwork, sportsmanship, mentor/tutor relationships, and engaging in being your best through the sport of baseball.  Opening it up to all youth, he even built into the rules more players on the field in a youth game than in traditional baseball so "all kids could play." (Garry Wills, "Certain Trumpets:  The Call of Leaders." 1994)

I had some gang activity in the neighborhood when I was a principal.  "Let's get the kids involved at a younger age, so they have a sense of belonging to a group," I suggested.  "Let's get them into Little League."  What did I run into (in my own neighborhood I grew up in no less)?  Resistance.  Costs - equipment to play, uniform costs, league fees.  Culture - these children may have gang aspirations?  And you want them to be here?  It went on.  I might have had better luck founding my own league because "all children" could neither afford league costs or overcome some of the stereotypes that existed in a neighborhood that had changed from blue collar middle income to lower income and minority.  Some parents tried to make meaningful change to open up the game, but it was difficult.

And so to the Easter message.  Christ's resurrection for victory from death.  Personal resurrection in our own lives.  Second chances.  Forgiveness, mercy, grace, love.  And we, as a church (church at large corporately and collectively), have created what?  Debate within the worlds of politics and society that largely ignore Christ's Great Commission.  Unwritten rules.  Codes of behavior.  Judgmental attitudes and behaviors that have less to do with the issue or sin and more to do with the person.

This Easter, we focus on the true meaning of Christ's death and resurrection for all of us.  This Easter, we share that message of forgiveness and grace through faith in Christ, that message of second chances, new beginnings, of being a new creation in Christ (Pastor Eric Hiner, 4/5/15).  This Easter, we pray that as a church at large, we bring that simple message of Christ and Him crucified to the world and not strangle it in culture, unwritten rules, attitudes, assumptions, piety that focuses on others sins, not our own.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Hope Men's Ministry

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Devotion 4.5.15

"Now, after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you see Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.'" Matthew 28:1 - 6

On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over death and sin. 

In Luke, the angel asks, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen." 24:5

The victory was for us.  Today we observe that victory which Jesus delivered.  Where do we go to seek the living Jesus?  Where do we look when we are in need?  Today, we pray we seek the living Christ who died for our sins and rose again to give us everlasting life.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Devotion 4.3.15

Good Friday.  A name that is paradoxical in that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was betrayed, wrongly arrested, accused, tried, convicted, beaten, and then hung on a cross until death.  All four gospels account for the day - Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 22; John 18 and 19.

We pray for forgiveness.  The sins of the world of the past, present, and future account for his suffering and death.

We pray for wholeness.  We are to be made whole at the resurrection, victory over sin, Satan, and death. 

We pray thanksgiving.  God has sacrificed his own Son in our place.  Our thanksgiving is in the sacrifice that made us whole.  Now the day has irony as well.  He that had no sin died for our sins.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Devotion 4.2.15

Maundy Thursday. From the Latin word mandatum (mandate) and in this case "command." Christ, during the Last Supper speaks to his disciples and says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another." (John 13:34)

Before he is betrayed, Christ washes the disciples feet (John 13) and has his last supper during Passover.  During the Last Supper, he institutes the Lord's Supper, breaking bread and saying, "'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, 'Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" (Mark 26)

Bread and wine Christ proclaims as his body and blood, given for the forgiveness of sins.  A "new covenant" as Christ calls it.  Christ, now the Passover lamb, given in death for our sins.  Love one another.  Receive his body and blood.  His suffering, death and resurrection make his sacrifice all the more real and the institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion is completed by his suffering, death and resurrection.

Today, we are the beneficiaries of his sacrifice of love and of taking part in the Sacrament of the Altar - Holy Communion.  We pray for forgiveness and grace as provided by the Lord's Supper. We give thanks to Christ for our forgiveness, mercy and grace through the sacrament and his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Hope Men's Ministry