Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Devotion 7.22.15

We are, and have been, in a culture war for some time.  How long?  Try since the nation's founding.  Hamilton and Jefferson drew the political lines on the role of a central government.  The Alien and Sedition Act, signed into law by John Adams, affirmed our suspicion at that time of behavior and acts by those we did not identify as us and targeted immigrants and the press.

Christians have been caught up in the modern day culture war, which is a citizen's right in a our country, yet I constantly pray we also realize we have been in a spiritual war since the day of the fall of man.  Is the spiritual war the same as the cultural war?  I suppose we could talk about that for days, but as members of the body of Christ, we have definite instructions on our role within the body of believers when it comes to the spiritual battle. 

Christ reflects on our role as members of the body of Christ as we set out to share the Word.  "He who has ears, let him hear. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to their playmates, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge for you, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'  Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (11:15 - 19)

Christ then laments on unrepentant cities where he has performed miracles and yet the Word has not taken root, and ends by saying, "But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." (11:24)

People then, and now, heard the Word and resisted it, turned away from it, scoffed at it, including scoffing at Christ himself.  That battle remains today as we take up the call as sowers of the seed as it falls and grows or dies or goes dormant.

We pray that as sowers of the seed, we strive to seek fertile ground so the seed flourishes. We pray that Christ send his Spirit to work in the hearts of those who are resistant to that Word.  We pray that our actions, in the spiritual war, or in the cultural war if we engage in it, are such that teach the truth of Christ in love as he does when he says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." (11:28)

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Devotion 7.16.15

Texas Tech University is as fine an institution as I've ever had an opportunity to work with and be a part of as a student.  It is a beautiful campus set in West Texas with a defined look that is adhered to building by building (with a few exceptions), and the professors that I have worked with in the school have a genuine care for the students that I saw rarely at the University of Houston.  Rather, it reminds me more of my education at Texas Lutheran (1200 students) where the learning was personal and engaging.  That was my experience for a year-and-a-half as a student earning a Superintendent's Certificate.

I once flew with a man who taught as a professor at Tech on a flight to Austin, and we both discussed not being from Lubbock.  As we spoke, he noted the culture in Lubbock and referred to it as "provincial."  I knew what he meant.  Texas Tech University, a major university in the state, is viewed in and by Lubbock as something that is West Texan.  In a sense, it belongs to Lubbock.  In truth, though, it belongs to the state of Texas and educates thousands of students from across the globe.  The professors at Tech are from a variety of states in both their personal lives as well as their degrees and also many are from a variety of countries.  It is international in reach and scope and the offerings impact the globe in agriculture, medicine, science, engineering, law, and other professions certainly reach statewide and across the region (including other states) in education, communications, and such.  Yet West Texas embraces it as its own (and well it should because there probably wouldn't be a Lubbock without Texas Tech, or at least it would look very different).

And so we come to the church.  We view the church as our own.  We raised the funds to build it.  We picked the locations ourselves.  We picked the colors.  The staff we called or hired.  Our children were born, baptized, raised, came of age, confirmed, graduated, and possibly married in our church.  Our parents were buried by the pastor, maybe even on the church grounds.  It is, in essence, our own.

But... who does it belong to, and what does it exist for?

As we look at scripture, Paul writes in Ephesians that "...as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (5:25 - 28)  In truth, Christ created the church.

Paul writes extensively to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians) about the importance of the church.  The church is in division, so Paul reminds us Christ is the supreme authority (ch 1), our role in proclaiming Christ and wisdom (ch 2), our work as apostles of Christ, even as lowly vessels (ch 4) and caution to the temptations of this world (ch 5 and 6).  He speaks to us about our gifts (ch 12) and our actions as one body with many gifts.  In essence, our job is to work together as a body of believers to deliver the Word of God through the Sacraments and teaching the Word as Christ created the church to do.

How do we do as a church?  Do we think of the church as ours?  Do we seek to shape it in our own image, or do we seek to shape it through our own strengths as a body of believers in order to more effectively deliver the Word?

Pray we constantly remind ourselves that the church is Christ's and that we, as his body, are there to teach and proclaim the Word.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 7.15.15

A book I read in college (on my own, not for class) was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (Simon and Schuster, 1961) which was about a B-25 pilot in World War II.  He wanted out of the Army (Army Air Corp at the time which later became the Air Force).  The number of missions to fly to qualify to leave kept increasing so he wanted to plead insanity.  Yet, as his fellow servicemen and officers told him, it is totally sane to not want to be in battle, so to plead insanity to get out is a completely sane act.  He was in, as we now call it, a "catch-22" situation.

During the course of the book, some officers get into a conversation about God.  All four are atheists, but they argue anyway that if they did believe in God, their God would "be like this" (and they went on to describe their gods in great detail).

Aren't we like that as Christians? Divided into numerous denominations and non-denominations to serve God the way we see Him (and Her by some accounts depending on the faith)?  This can be reflected in today's debates about marriage as various faiths weigh in on whether or not certain types of marriage are "God-pleasing" or not.  Some faiths focus on a strict interpretation of the scripture and some have almost completely abandoned the mention of anything related to faith and have either a prosperity gospel (you are your own special creation and can accomplish your dreams) or a social gospel (we are here to serve the poor, the needy, the less fortunate, the ill, the infirmed, etc), neither of which mention sin, Satan, death, forgiveness, Christ and the resurrection.  Sometimes we all forget this is not our gospel, it is the Word of God, given to us by God to come to and strengthen our faith and that of others.

Christ speaks of such when he speaks of signs of the end of the age (this doesn't mean it is around the corner, so please don't read it as such), "Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!', do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.'" (Matthew 24:23 - 24)

How to discern all of this?  Test what is taught against the scripture or take it to a learned person in the scripture to ask.  Pray to God for guidance when you hear such things taught.  Be in the Word and personal prayer and devotion time to learn and apply what Christ is teaching.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Devotion 7.14.15

When Mike Matheny retired from professional baseball after 13 (?) years as a catcher, he went home to seek that next phase of life.  A group of parents, quick to see he was available, sought him as the coach of their children's team.  After some deliberation, mostly within his own mind, he wrote a letter that became known as "The Matheny Manifesto" which went viral on the internet.  His contention, as he writes in his book by the same name (mentioned yesterday and cited as well for full credit), is that "youth sports are screwed up and parents are 100% to blame." (p 38) With that in mind, he set out to establish the framework by which he would coach and they would support as parents of children who are kids and there to play, learn about life, and maybe, one day, just maybe, play at higher levels.

Strong words.  Perhaps some of you reading this winced at the thought and are parents with kids in youth sports.  I won't support, defend, or deny Matheny's assertions.  What I will do is ask us what kind of parents we want to be?  The truth is the new generation of people who are current parents have a certain reputation:  "helicopter parents," known to be over-protective and zealous in filling their child's time with activity, and to be present at all activities, and to assure that no scratch, harm (physical or emotional), or meal come to the child that won't be counter to anything the parent is philosophically, morally, or ethically opposed to.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to create myth.  Look at the 1960s.  The Boomer Generation, born to the Greatest Generation, has a reputation for creating a culture that was permissive at best, and really a generation bent on not following rules, creating new rules which were questionable, producing a counter culture that didn't respect societal norms, etc. etc.  All this born to the generation that cured diseases, conquered enemies who had amassed great power, and then went on to create the space program and other feats not seen in the history of mankind.

So, what kind of parents were they, were we, and are you?  The truth is we don't know until the children become adults, and then we see how they turned out. Do they make it in spite of us or because of us?

I hope all of us know the following:  we aren't perfect; we don't have all the answers; we should seek answers from people you consider wise; pray in earnest for wisdom, strength and patience; seek guidance from scripture; and pray to God for guidance.  In John 9, Christ is asked by teachers about a blind man, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  Many times we take on that assumption.  My children are like this because I did or didn't do something.  Christ answers, "It is not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (9:2 - 3) 

We pray that our children are examples of Christ and that our workmanship as parents is in Christ's honor and glory.  We pray for that measure of forgiveness when we fail and that we can forgive ourselves as well as the children when they are not at their best.  We pray that in spite of it all, God create a new being in our children that walks in faith in His light.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Devotion 7.13.15

One aspect of corporate being is a simple one yet complex:  to get the organization to serve a greater good or purpose.  This simple fact is reinforced in research and in quality leadership.  Corporations don't get involved in community activities simply because it is a nice thing to do (sure, it makes the corporation appear more human which in today's world helps sustain it), but because the organization serves a purpose beyond itself, it gives it a corporate spirit (not in the existential essence of today's modern mantra - I seek spirituality dude).

Mike Matheny, baseball manager, says it this way in his book on coaching, baseball, and life:  Rule # 3 - Teamwork - Don't Think Less of Yourself, Think of Yourself Less (Mike Matheny, The Matheny Manifesto, 2015).  Matheny poses this question in this chapter as he uses the "two most storied franchises in baseball history, in my opinion, are the Yankees and the Cardinals.... If the formula for success is so easy, why doesn't everyone follow it?  The short answer is it goes against human nature." (p. 131)

I think in my own life of the struggle between David, the individual, and David the spouse and parent.  Give of myself for someone else?  Really?  Give of my time to go do what?  Watch your students' school play?  Watch our kids _______ for the 100th time?  As Matheny says in so many words, it ain't about me (did that just run fingernails down the mental chalkboard for you English majors?).

A church should certainly understand this, shouldn't it?  Serving Christ as he commanded and taught and showed us by example?  Take our love to others, regardless of sin, and preach the truth in love.  Pray for others.  Help others.  So, what is our batting average (if I may use a pun on a devotion drawn from a baseball manager)?  How do we seem to do in a world full of need in reaching out beyond ourselves?

Christ speaks in uncompromising terms on this:  "Truly I say to you, as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me." (Matthew 25:45)  Pray we seek those opportunities to "think of ourselves less" and take time to think of others and act on their behalf in the name of Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Beautiful Life - 7.7.15

"Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master." Matthew 21:21

We were in El Paso, for my first time, in 2010, to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ethie "Gaga" Brill.  UTEP was also having its home opener that September, and the opposing team was staying in the same hotel as were we.  We got on the elevator with some of the players, and we chatted briefly.  I mentioned going to the birthday of a lady turning 100, and the two players looked at me and said, "Ethie?"  Cindy and I were surprised they knew.  We asked how they knew, and they said, "We went to her place (she was in assisted living), and we met her.  She asked us if we knew the Lord." We both chuckled admiringly. That was Ethie.

We spoke on Sunday of reaching out to the lost, and how to reach out to the lost.  We also spoke of the urgency, much like Christ did when he sent out the 12 in a harvest that was plentiful (Matthew 10) and the workers few.  Ethie could speak of Christ as if he were next to her, in the first person.  "I talk to Christ constantly," she once said as we were at the airport waiting on her flight (my brother-in-law took his grandmother, Gaga, and I went along).

I don't doubt that she did.  She wasted no energy.  She constantly read the bible, even with poor eye sight, caused I understand by singing in the church choir, the strain of which caused some sight problems.  She is, in a word, a saint because she knew of service to Christ and that service born from love of Christ in her life.  Her husband, a Lutheran minister, left the comfort of Minnesota (really, you just build the church there and it grows, which can be, as my brother-in-law pointed out, a double-edged sword), to establish a mission church in El Paso.  Ethie was clearly a partner in that ministry.

Ethie left this earthly life on Sunday near her 105th birthday.  Born just after Theodore Roosevelt left office, she enjoyed a full life of marriage, two children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great grandchildren.  She knew Christ, and to everyone she met, she gave us smiles, humor, and faith.  We can all learn from her as we seek to minister to others in our own way.  Rule one, just do it.  Rule two, Christ is there for you, talk to him.  Rule three, remember rule two.

The resurrection is the assurance we all have.  Ethie leaves us temporarily, but she leaves behind a true legacy.  We are assured of being with her, and all of our loved ones, one day.  Until then, do you know the Lord?

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 7.6.15

There was a movement (in fact, it may still exist) in management in which the theory was this:  upon evaluating an employee and setting goals for the employee, minimize words that suggest weakness, including words like weakness.  Instead, use words like "areas for improvement," and in doing so, talk about the strengths of the employee as means to improve ("your strengths will help you overcome said areas of focus").  What rot.

When I was a musician, taking lessons from a master musician, she never insisted that my strengths be used to overcome my weaknesses.  In certain passage in which there were a thousand notes stuffed into four bars, all of them with markings around them indicating sharps, flats, naturals, increase sound, decrease sound, pick up the speed, etc., she didn't say, "Use the bars before that where you really have the piece mastered to overcome this difficult passage."  No, we beat that dead horse until I could play it.

The great management guru, Joe DiMaggio, said the same thing when an interviewer asked him how he became a great hitter.  "I overcame my weaknesses.  I've heard people say that's not what you say anymore, but that is silly.  You cannot become great until you overcome weaknesses."

As followers of Christ, we should use the word freely.  Paul does as he speaks of his greatness in 2 Corinthians by speaking of his weakness. "So, to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh....Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" (12:7 - 8)

The explanation in the study bible is perfect, "Christ's almighty power works great things through feeble instruments" (like my clarinet). Do you know what and where your weaknesses are?  Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we have them mastered, but they are there.  They are our true vulnerabilities.  We may not be able to master them.  We may need to learn to cope with them, but they exist, and we look to Christ for strength in learning to deal with them.

Pray for Christ's strength as we seek to deal with weakness, and that the weakness give us pause to know that we need to turn to Christ and seek his strength, grace, and mercy.

Hope Men's Ministry

Friday, July 3, 2015

Devotion 7.3.15

Have you set your goals yet?  Perhaps you want to focus on one area of health, or maybe take a holistic approach focus on several areas.  Either way, goal setting is an important part to success in anything done in life.  Goals gives us a target to aim for and help us track that we are making the right kind of progress. Paul speaks about a goal in Philippians, “But one thing I do: 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.” 

His goal may not be that he can lose a certain amount of weight, or that he can achieve a certain level of success.  But his goal is one that has a certain level of purpose and meaning that lasts forever.  For Paul, every part of his life was subject to review to make sure that it aligns with God’s will and fulfills God’s calling in his life.  He had a goal, to live for Christ in all things.  This meant that even in his pain and suffering he saw how Christ was glorified.  So as you set your goals, think beyond just general health.  Rather, think about health with a purpose.  For instance, think about health that makes you a better mom or dad, son or daughter; health that gives strength and encouragement to help a friend; or even health that gives knowledge and wisdom to prepare you for a situation that you have not encountered yet.  Whatever the motivation is, set goals and let it be to the glory of God.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Devotion 7.2.15

There is a fine line between a ball player in Triple A baseball and the majors.  So I once heard from a friend of mine who pitched in the Philadelphia system at the Triple A level for a few years.  For the pitcher, the fastball may not move enough, or there isn't enough variation in his pitches, and to be truthful, it may all be right here, he said as he pointed to his head.  The mental part of the game is the toughest.

To me, that meant that the true MLB player knows one thing - they have never arrived. After reading three books on Nolan Ryan, you know he knew this in his heart.  He was a workhorse, never assuming that he could coast on being Nolan Ryan.  Tony Gwynn was like this as well.  In reading coverage of Tony during his prime as a San Diego hitting machine, I learned that Tony spent hours watching video of himself and opposing pitchers.  Trying to find that little nuance in their game (meaning if he observed him standing on the mound just before he threw the ball in a certain place on the rubber) he knew which pitch would come.

So what of the Christian?  Do we believe that at some point, we've actually arrived?  Does the Christian ever pause and say, "I'm there."  Hopefully not.  There is a fine line we walk as we discuss our lives, even in this "Summer of Health," when we speak of our health and give ourselves assessments of where we are in body, mind, and spirit.  Hopefully, we are never heard saying, "I'm spiritually healthy.  People need to come to me and seek my wisdom 'cause baby, I am there."

Paul talks to us in 1 Timothy.  "Train yourselves for godliness; for while training the body is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also the life to come.  For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." (4:7 - 9)

We train ourselves yes, but we keep our eyes on our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our only source of redemption is through him, and as we seek to train ourselves, it is only to serve him better.

Peace in the risen Christ as you enjoy your summer and as we seek to explore better ways to serve him.