Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Devotion 12.30.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 28, 2015

Devotion 12.29.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Devotion 12.28.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Devotion 12.24.15

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Devotion 12.23.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 21, 2015

Devotion 12.22.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Devotion 12.17.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Devotion 12.16.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 14, 2015

Devotion 12.15.15

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Devotion 12.14.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Devotion 12.10.15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Devotion 12.9.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 7, 2015

Devotion 12.8.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Devotion 12.7.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Devotion 12.3.15

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Devotion 12.2.15

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Men's Ministry

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