Monday, November 30, 2015

Devotion 12.1.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Devotion 11.30.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Prayer 11.26.15

Pray a prayer of thanksgiving today for:

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

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

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

We thank God for our families and friends.

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, November 23, 2015

Devotion 11.24.15

A Thanksgiving Devotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Devotion 11.18.15

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Devotion 11.18.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

The Invisible War. Rick Warren, 2014

Monday, November 16, 2015

Devotion 11.17.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 11.16.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Devotion 11.12.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Devotion 11.11.15

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, November 9, 2015

Devotion 11.10.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Devotion 11.9.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Devotion 11.6.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Devotion 11.5.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 11.4.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, November 2, 2015

Devotion 11.3.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry