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

Monday, October 12, 2015

Devotion 10.13.15

The conversation between a friend of mine and I goes something like this:  "Checked out the obituaries this morning to see if you or I were in there.  We weren't, so we have another day."  I do occasionally scan the obituaries just in case I need to send a message of sorrow and comfort to someone I know or have worked with.  Today (Monday) I noted a poignant obit for a very young child named Brolin Hardin (age 4). 

The introduction struck me in that it said, "completed his earthly mission."  Later in the obit it said, "He truly understood life was to be lived and not observed."  What a great reminder for us all. 

Paul writes, "...but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me....My desire is to die and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (the church in Philippi)." (1:20 - 24)

My earthly mission and even my death should be a testimony to Christ.  Pray that we live each day understanding that life is to be lived and not observed, and that we live each day honoring Christ in our bodies.  Pray that our labor is fruitful as we ask the Spirit to use us to proclaim the good news of Christ, each in our own way.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Devotion 10.12.15

We don't recognize second place. Never mind the basement dwellers, we aren't even talking about them.  We are talking about the finalists who don't get the prize.  The two others interviewed for CEO who didn't get it.  The three finalists for the teaching position.  The military officer who sought the promotion, but instead, it went to someone else named Eisenhower.  The silver medalist.  The team who lost the Super Bowl.  You get the idea.  Why are we so hard on accomplishment that isn't the winner of the gold, the prize, the top spot?

There was once a Nike commercial that featured a runner running through the streets of the city at night.  He ran, and ran, and ran, and then the commercial ended with the phrase, "There is no finish line."  Life, in all facets, is a continual race with no end until the final day.  Some days we win, and some days we don't.  Yet we continue trying and working, striving to achieve.

It is through that lens that Paul talks to us at the beginning of Philippians.  "...because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus." (1:5 & 6) 

Our work here on earth is for a brief time.  Each generation doing the same.  While we may not see our works brought to completion in our lifetime, we focus on Christ's Word at work in us.  One day we will see that work come to completion, but it may not be in our lifetime. Our work, Paul's work, and the generations before and after us, will only see it come to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.  There is no finish line until he returns.  Pray that we use our time and energy focused on God's Word which brings about good work in us for Christ's glory.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Devotion 10.7.15

"This is a very important lesson.  You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that might be." Admiral Jim Stockdale, Vietnam veteran, survivor of eight years in the prisoner of war camp "The Hanoi Hilton."

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, used that concept in his book in what he called the Stockdale Paradox, which he named after Stockdale told Collins who did not survive in the prison camp.  Who didn't survive?  "The optimists.  Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas, and then Christmas would come, and Christmas would go....  And they would die of a broken heart.'"  Hence his statement, "the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality."

How does that speak to you in your current reality?  Many of us know the depths that life can take us, so when we are in highs, we know that status is temporary.  Something is just around the corner either lurking to snare us or waiting as life takes its many turns.  In short, we should be "in the moment" even though we also know to look toward the future.

Paul tells us, "For I have learned to be content in whatever the circumstance." (Philippians 4:11)  Paul was a learned man who had achieved greatness prior to his call from Christ and then suffered much for Christ, including prison. 

If you are in the depths of the valley right now, our prayer is that you are lifted by God's hand from your circumstance.  If you are in the highs of life right now, our prayer is of thanksgiving and that you not get restless because of successes.  In all, we pray that prayer Paul prays for our lives that "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, October 5, 2015

Devotion 10.06.15

Daniel Levitin has written a book titled The Organized Mind which is a detailed analysis on the brain, the mind, how it functions, how we learn, how it organizes, and the implications that has for us.  The subtitle describes its direction, "Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload."  We've had people state observations, largely incorrect, in the past 15 years as technology has produced a variety of opportunities for distractions.  The result is some mistakenly state that people, especially those 30 and under, have developed a capacity to "multi-task."  Levitin, and many studies cited from MIT, state that is not true.

The brain (the organ) and mind (consciousness) developed over the past several thousand years, functioning on its surroundings and its ability to create, sort, organize, think, and remember.  Because, as he notes, the memory in the mind is highly fallible, humans have relied on language, the written language, to help it organize and track its observations, thoughts, memory, learnings, and other operations.  He states early in the book that the first forms of writing have been with regard to our ancestors patterns from hunter/gatherer to settling in an area with centers, soon to become cities, largely to process commerce such as agriculture.  So, he says, the first forms of writing we have are items such as inventory and sales.  Literature comes much later.

A joke in a movie I've watched a thousand times is when Dr. Evil, in "Austin Powers," claims his father was eccentric and claimed to have invented the question mark (?).  Yet as language developed and the written word followed suit, when did a question appear first appear?  It is worth noting that Moses (who records in writing the oral traditions and stories that existed before him) gives us the first account of a question after creation in Genesis 3. Here we find Satan asking Eve, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'" (v 1)  This isn't claiming that questioning is evil, but note how it is used here.  Eve correctly asserts God's desires in response to Satan, after which Satan entertains the doubt of what God actually said, responding, "You will not surely die...." (v 4)  You know the rest of this story.

Yes, we love to question.  In many instances, it is healthy, and in many instances, it is sinful.  Caste just enough doubt, but make sure my hands aren't on this at all.  "Hey, I just asked the question.  I've not made an accusation."  To question can be a form of true thought, and it can be a form of true divisiveness. 

We are thankful for God creating in us a mind shaped in his image that can be used to create beautiful works as well as perform miraculous feats and modern advances.  We also pray that we use these powerful tools he's given us to bring glory to our Creator, and we pray a prayer of thanksgiving that He sent His Son to die for those sins we commit when our minds create far less than glorious things.

Hope Men's Ministry