Thursday, December 22, 2016

Devotion 12.23.16

God chose shepherds to reveal the birth of his Son to the world.  Why?  Why not the spiritual leaders in the synagogues who would be interested in the Messiah coming to earth?

We aren't told, so we cannot create God's meaning in the absence of an explanation from scripture, but the response from the shepherds may be all we need to know.  The angels come and inform the shepherds of Christ's birth.  "You will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will among men!' When the angels went away from them into heaven, the said to one another, 'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.  And they went with haste...." (Luke 2:12 - 16)

The shepherds heard the word and responded immediately without thought.  Today, we hear the Word of God's Shepherd, sent to tend to His flock.  "'Simon (Peter), son of John, do you love me?' Christ asked. 'Yes Lord, you know that I love you.' Christ said, 'Feed my lambs.'" (John 21:17)  Christ would ask two more times and would tell Peter to "tend" or "feed" His sheep.  We are Christ's sheep. 

Christ responded to the Father's will and gave his life as the ultimate sacrifice.  We, his sheep, receive the gift of eternal life because of our Shepherd.  We respond to this without thought as well, responding to the love of Christ.

Have a truly Merry Christmas in the name of Christ whose birth we celebrate at this time of year!

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Devotion 12.22.16

The salt of the earth.  A phrase used to describe someone who is just a great person, known for giving someone "the shirt off his back," friend or even foe alike.  The salt of the earth works hard to provide for his family, and usually, these "old salts" are shaped physically by the work they do.  Their hands show they are working men.  Their faces are hardened and cracked by exposure to the elements, and yet there is a firmness to their features that is warm and friendly.

The salt of the earth comprises most of this nation's population.  If graduation rates are an indication of profession, only 25% of this country possesses a college degree.  So, much of the work to feed, clothe, build infrastructure, homes, places of business, and other such activities falls to these "old salts."  They aren't less than people who possess higher degrees or white collar jobs, but those in white collar positions aren't better than the working man either. 

God makes a statement by who He goes to and informs of the birth of Jesus.  While we cannot create a theology in this, it is telling that God sends his angels to shepherds.  As is noted in Luke in the King James version of the Bible, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, an the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel of the Lord said unto them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:8 - 11)

Shepherds?  Not the learned of the day?  The angels didn't go to the temple and say to the spiritual leaders the Messiah was here?  They didn't descend on Rome or other political leaders and say, "The new king is here?"  No, God chose shepherds.  God chose a shepherd boy to defeat Goliath, and now God chooses his Son to be our Shepherd to save us from sin and death. 

As we grow near to the day that represents our Savior's birth, we rejoice in our Shepherd, Christ Jesus, and all He does for us in our lives.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 12.21.16

Favorite Christmas memory?  This year will mark Christmas number 57 for me, so asking me that question is difficult.  From my own childhood?  From my early adult life?  Early marriage?  That point where I became Santa with our own children?  One favorite memory for me was on Christmas morning, and the kids were about 2 years old.  We were back in our house after having Christmas in a rental house the year before after a tornado hit our home in November.

Fisher-Price theme toys were the order of the day, and Santa had brought our son a pirate ship and our daughter a farm.  Captured on video, our son sat mesmerized with his toy, and our daughter sat opening and closing the barn door, attempting to capture the source of the "moo" that occurred with each opening.

Children cause us to view Christmas differently, their excitement of the entire season.  Pastor teases the excitement each Sunday with the Advent Wreath, which is used to mark observations, but Pastor knows what's on the kids' minds:  How much longer until Christmas?  So, from four Sundays down to the final candle and the next candle is the Christ candle which is lit on Christmas.  We add to the excitement with calendars (we had one in our home) that observe the month of December and have a prayer for each day before Christmas.  We decorate and begin to put gifts under the tree. 

Yet all of this is designed around a very simple message that we need to remind ourselves of as the season unfolds. "For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)  As we prepare for this day, this simple truth should be part of our daily routine.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Devotion 12.20.16

A phase of the election process we probably either didn't know exist or rarely paid attention to, the Electoral College, is over as they met yesterday in their various state capitals to cast their ballots.  We know of this process and sequence this year because the election for our president in the United States has been less than traditional this past year or so.  What we learn as men of faith is that we are fallible creatures after the fall of man, and this fallibility invades every aspect of life, from governing ourselves as individuals to governing at all levels.

This certainly played itself out when Christ entered the world, a very hostile world under a most cruel system.  Rome and the Romans used iron fists to rule and they used regional kings and governors to enforce a rule that was designed to send a clear signal. 

Consider the hostile environment Christ was born under King Herod, whom the Study Bible notes was named king of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 BC.  In Matthew 2, Herod learns of the birth of the "king of the Jews" from the wise men.  After hearing this, Herod summons his chief priests and scribes who inform him from the book of Micah, "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah... for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people." (Matthew 2:6)  Herod uses the wise men to inform him of this "star" that appeared above the Christ, whom the wise men were searching for.  Herod uses a line that is revealing and disingenuous:  "Go and search for the child, and when you have found him, bring me world, that I too may come and worship him." (2:8)

The wise men were warned in a dream about Herod (2:12) and Mary and Joseph were warned in a dream and fled to Egypt.  Herod then plays his hand and begins to kill all the male children in Israel, age 2 and under, to snuff out this new "king" who would threaten his rule and stability over the region.

Today we observe the birth of Christ and soon we celebrate that birth in formal worship.  However, that birth and the subsequent years were not easy, and the birth marks the beginning of the promise that is fulfilled in Easter, where we learn nothing we do can overcome our sinful nature and the Christ we celebrate gives his own life to make perfect despite our imperfections.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Devotion 12.15.16

Ever have work that you just, in a word, hate?  It's part of the job that you just dread.  You work to avoid it and wait until you absolutely have to do it, or put it off until the due date no longer gives you that option.  When I was in full education career, I did.  I can give you examples, but why?  You have them as well.

Imagine my surprise recently when my former boss and I were talking at a social engagement, and he began talking about some work at the office.  He looked at me and said, "I wish you were here to meet with (a person they contract with, not an employee) and to help him/her develop these reports.  He/she has no idea what they (the body making the request) expect.  You could probably help her."

That made me think about the frame of mind we have when we approach a task, including those we detest.  The task my former boss mentioned was one I did not look forward to, but apparently I did them to a level he liked or he wouldn't have said what he said.  How do we approach those things that are burdensome?

Imagine Mary, who has been told she's having a child who is God's Son.  Imagine the burden she must have felt when, at a young age, she becomes pregnant and is informed by an angel it is the Holy Spirit that has delivered this pregnancy to her womb (Luke 1:35).  Mary's response is best shown later after going to stay with Zechariah and Elizabeth, pregnant with John.  John leaps in the womb and Elizabeth praises Mary among women.  Mary's response, now known as "The Magnificat," tells of Mary's frame of mind:

"My soul Magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked o the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed, for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." (Luke 1:46-49)  The full Manificat is Luke 1:46-55.  I encourage you to read it because it reveals the humility that Mary views the pregnancy of our Lord Jesus Christ with, and the blessing she feels God has bestowed upon her.  What could be a burden is seen as a blessing.

Pray that we approach all God gives us is viewed as a blessing and not a burden.  Pray that we have that same frame of mind that Mary approaches her life with.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Devotion 12.14.16

The role of the step-father is an important one, and it is one, from my observation of years in education, that requires the skill of a great tight-rope walker.  The good step-fathers realize they've walked into a role that is one of being a true steward of the responsibility you've been given.  Being a step-dad doesn't necessarily mean there is a father in absentia.  In fact, the biological dad can be a very active person in the child's life.  So, the question is how and when to actually intervene in a situation in a child's life as "the dad?"

In some cases, the step-dad has an on-going relationship with the dad (in the more healthy relationships) and there is an understanding.  In other instances, there is acrimony between the former spouses, and the child can become the unfortunate object of that acrimony.  So, the step-father has to walk a delicate line of just when to intervene in situations that intuitively he thinks he is needed, lest the situation goes to the biological dad and becomes further exacerbated as he begins to question how it was handled and why "he" got involved.  In other cases, the biological dad has vanished and the step-dad is now responsible for becoming the father that the child needs, in both secular research as well as in scripture - the fathers we are to be.

It's not easy.

So, what about Joseph?  How would you like to have been Joseph?  We see an understanding Joseph when he learns of Mary's pregnancy in Matthew 1, wanting Mary to have dignity in spite of the condition, as Matthew notes, "being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame...." (see Devotion 12.12.16). Joseph is going to be given the role of a lifetime - God's Son will be his stepson.  Joseph will be the earthly father of our Father's Son Jesus Christ.  It's not a statement in scripture, so this is truly speculation, but I have to believe in choosing Mary God chose a house where the Father would bring up His Son as God desired.

So, dads and stepdads, we also know that children and their faith are a primary responsibility of ours as well, as Ephesians notes, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (2:10)  Being a husband and father are primary among those works we are given, to be stewards of what God gave us, just as Joseph was.  Our role is no less important than Joseph's.

Pray we live up to that role we've been given, as we believe Joseph did (scripture sheds little light on that relationship).  For those of us who have already done the bulk of child-rearing, be there for those who seek answers to situations they face as newer dads.  If you come to me, my answer will be Lou Holtz' answer, "Before I had kids, I had a lot of answers.  Now I have kids and no answers."

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Devotion 12.13.16

"Festivus" was the holiday George Costanza's dad created to coincide with Christmas.  "Festivus for the rest of us" was the saying that came with it.  According to Wikipedia: "Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe, who worked on the American sitcom Seinfeld, Festivus entered popular culture after it was made the focus of the 1997 episode "The Strike". The holiday's celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength", and the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus miracles."

The airing of grievances and feats of strength caused George to moan as his father began each.  Basically, what did you do to make me angry and let me show you how inept you are were behind both in the comedy.  What is it about Christmas, the actual holiday, or its made up counterpart Festivus, that has that potential to bring out the worst in us?  Especially a holiday that celebrates the birth of the Christ who came to this world to save us?

Peter talks to us a family of God in 1 Peter, but the passage has application for us as we prepare for Christmas, both as a church preparing for Christ's coming and as a family preparing to assemble:  "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." (1 Peter 3:8 - 9)

Pray for that unity and humility as we gather, and pray that we are a blessing to those around us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Devotion 12.12.16

(Adapted from Sunday's sermon by Pastor Eric Hiner)

The images evoked at Christmas when it comes to family are usually those that are ideal.  We picture the family all getting together with smiles around the tree, the fireplace glowing, and the anticipation of the gift exchange, the perfect gifts that will make each person happy, is in the air.  It is, for all intents and purposes, something captured by Norman Rockwell.  Realistically, though, it may be more appropriately captured in "Christmas Vacation," where Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) has placed impossible demands on the expectations of the "perfect" Christmas.

Even in a scene reminiscent of one of Rockwell's more famous paintings, the family gathered around the table as the turkey is being placed on the table as the father, wearing a tie, is preparing to carve it as the large family all smiles in anticipation, so too in "Christmas Vacation," Clark Griswold, wearing his own tie and preparing to carve the turkey, smiles as though it is perfect.  As the scene unfolds, Clark's Aunt Bethany says "The Pledge of Allegiance" instead of the prayer for the meal, during which Cousin Eddie stands up and covers his heart.  Next, the turkey gasps and gives a cloud of steam as Clark tries to carve it, showing it was over-cooked.  As the scene moves on, they discover Aunt Bethany put cat foot in her Jello dish, and Cousin Eddie's dog "Snot" goes through the trash in the kitchen.

Our expectations exceed reality at times like Christmas.

We learn the pains of Christmas go back to its roots, the birth of Christ.  In Matthew 1, Matthew tells us that Mary and Joseph are engaged to be married, and then the news comes to Joseph that Mary is pregnant.  Mary is pregnant and not married, an offense in Judaism that carries the weight of a stoning as punishment.  Joseph realizes the magnitude of this, and apparently, as Matthew writes, chooses to leave Mary rather than carry out the request for punishment.  "And her husband, Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly." (1:19)  Mary may have attempted to explain to Joseph where the child came from.  Scripture does not reveal that, but imagine being Joseph if she had. "This baby is God's.  His Spirit made me pregnant."  That would be difficult to believe. 

Yet God intervenes, and an angel reveals himself to Joseph in a dream to assure Joseph "...that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." (20).  In truth, much like in that first Christmas, our focus should only be on Christ.  Christ makes perfect out of imperfection, then and now.  The trappings of Christmas strip the miracle we know as Christ and leave us literally with empty packages.  However, with our gaze on the Christ-child, our hope is in Him.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Devotion 12.8.16

In the old Lutheran hymnal, The Offering always followed the sermon, and the italicized (if my memory serves me correctly) emphasis after the title was "given out of response to God's love," or some such derivative of that line.  We give not because of the tithe mentality, but rather we give as a response to God's love.  "We give thee but thine own, whatever the gift may be, all that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord from thee" would also be a commonly sung response to the offering.  What we have is a trust from God, and it is all his.

Eugene Peterson talks about excellence in light of scripture, specifically Jeremiah and the excellence God requires of Jeremiah.  What interferes with that expectation?  Peterson notes that right at the start, Jeremiah pleads inadequacy.  "I'm not the right person for this," and/or "I'm not good enough." "Sovereign Lord," Jeremiah says, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." (1:6)  Peterson responds, "There is an enormous gap between what we think we can do and what God calls us to do. Our ideas of what we can do or want to do are trivial; God's ideas for us are grand."

What kind of service do we avoid?  Do we challenge our own giving during the offering, or a request of service, or other such kinds of things a church may need?  Don't have the time.... Don't have the skills.... Giving 'til it hurts already. 

In this season of preparation, we should examine our own lives and what we do with those lives when it comes to the response of what Christ gave, namely his life, suffering and death, and that he rose so that we may be acceptable before His Father.  That's true excellence from God the Father and Son so that we may have grace through faith. 

God says later to Jeremiah, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you  and will rescue you." (1:8)  When God asks you to rise to the challenge, know that God is with you, and He will provide all you need to achieve excellence.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Devotion 12.7.16

My wife and I are adoptive parents.  That's a fact I don't state often, if at all, because it no longer seems necessary.  Our children know it.  We know it.  Our family knows it, and if it comes up in conversation, we acknowledge it, but after 24 years, we feel that we are simply parents.  In fact, it rarely comes into my mind that 24 years ago we were privileged to become parents through the adoption process.

The agencies have you come to terms with your "grief," or at least Lutheran Social Services did.  During a weekend session, they have the prospective parents in the room to listen as they talk about infertility and coming to terms with that, and the pain that some people feel as they are childless.  I considered it a rather cruel session because that impacts women far differently than men, so the women begin to cry and the presenter almost put it into hyper-drive at that point, almost as though to pour salt into the wound.  The other fact was that several of us in the room had already begun to come to grips with this and didn't need a lecture.

That said, we soon became parents, and looking back on it, the delivery of children into our home was no less a blessing of God than a biological birth.  Our home became and still is home, and our lives intertwine as parents/children with all the interactions that occur as that relationship changes.  We firmly believe God put us in their lives and them in ours much as he would with biological children, so the notion of "adoption" is far behind us.

The other fact is scriptural as well.  We are all adopted.  We are not our own.  As we consider Christ's family tree, we ask ourselves, "Am I part of that tree if the gift of faith and a recipient of the benefits of faith are given to those in Christ's heritage?"  Yes, we are literally all adopted into the shoot of Jesse's stump.  In Ephesians, Paul writes about those who enter faith in Christ as "adopted." "For He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His presence. In love He predestined us for adoption as His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will." Christ's elect are adopted as a matter of their faith, which he knew about in advance (not chosen to be Christians in advance, but Christians chosen to advance his gospel). As Gentiles especially, we became part of God's elect as Paul writes in Romans 11:  "...and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,...." Finally, we do not "belong" to our parents or ourselves, but rather, we belong to God.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price."

Our children are ours as a gift of God like all other children in a home.  All of us, in truth, are adopted, and Christ has predestined that adoption into his kingdom in order to advance his kingdom, with all the benefits his grace provides to God's "chosen" and to those grafted into Christ's tree.  We continue to give thanks for that gift as children of God as we prepare for his return.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 5, 2016

Devotion 12.6.16

We talked of family on Sunday after the sermon was about the genealogy of Christ from Matthew 1.  One man near me said, "My family tree was a stump," jokingly.  That was actually the theme of the sermon in a way:  Families have dysfunction, whether or not we want to admit it, and if you are uncomfortable with that, look no further than Christ's family tree as noted in Matthew (concluding with Christ being the only way to remove the stain of family dysfunction, including his own).

Pastor noted, in a humorous say, "Everyone has that uncle, and you (those of us in the room) may be that uncle."  Indeed, my dad spoke of an uncle in his family, his mother's brother, who was "a hobo."  Never heard that phrase? It is nicely defined in Google as "a homeless vagabond, unlike a tramp who works only when forced to, or a bum who doesn't work, a 'hobo' is a traveling worker."  Dad said that his uncle, the hobo, would come bearing gifts, usually candy, for him and all his sisters, to his mother's chagrin.  This hobo (I believe his name is George, and his skill was carpentry - perfect for the life of a hobo out to see the world) would usually be heard singing a song (my dad sang it one time, and it was funny because he imitated how he sang it) as he came down the street.  The kids would get excited and the mom (my grandmother) would shake her head.  I asked what my grandfather thought of it recently and my aunt said, "He amazingly didn't care when he came to the house and he'd let him stay until he went on his way." 

So, we may indeed have that uncle or actually be that uncle (it has always been my goal to be that uncle to a degree, why be boring?).  And to my friend who said his family tree was a stump, he's in great company. "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him." (Isaiah 11:1 and 2a)

Matthew meticulously documents that branch that comes from the stump of Jesse's.  It starts as a shoot (a young branch) and grows to produce fruit.  Matthew states, "So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon were 14 generations, and from the deportation of Babylon to the Christ 14 generations." (1:17)  Twenty-eight generations from "Jesse's stump" to the birth of Christ, who is that shoot that eventually becomes the fruit-bearing branch with the Spirit of the Lord resting upon him.

Christ is that shoot in all of our family trees, taking our unbelief and creating that fruit in us as we grow in our faith.  Our Advent journey continues as we continue to prepare for the coming of Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Devotion 12.5.16

I remember a comedian perform an "acceptance speech" as though he was receiving an Academy Award (a spoof of the sappy nature of Hollywood at such events).  He said, "We were like a family on the set, which is why we argued with each other all the time and quit speaking."  Family, the word is broad in meaning due to all the baggage that comes with it.  When I was an administrator, I didn't like using the phrase, "We are family here," not because I objected to the warmth and notion of caring it could convey.  No, I objected to it because if you say that in a room of more than two people, chances are someone who has had a negative experience with family (a dysfunctional family) may not get the same feeling others who hear it might.

Yesterday at church, we heard about family and the family tree.  I've been doing research on my own, as has been explained recently in these devotions, interested in learning about family I never knew because of my mother's loss of both parents by six years of age and subsequent foster parents throughout her childhood.  The few I ever met (a cousin specifically and some step-siblings) were interesting.  My dad didn't care hanging around them because, being from Minnesota, he wasn't comfortable with the southern redneck.  "You might be a redneck if the Jeff Foxworthy jokes strike a chord with your family tree," and they do with me.

The irony of my dad's viewpoint is that whatever he condemned in the life of a southern "redneck" is also reflected in the Minnesota family tree, the Baldner side.  They played hard, worked hard, and enjoyed strong drink at the end of the day.  They hunted, ice fished, and did all the things that accompany those events.  They were meat packers, the big employer in the hometown was Hormel, so they had a variety of jobs cutting, packing, and loading meat and meat products on the trucks and trains.  And they could sit and watch football in conditions we would say, "No thank you," in.  So, I'm not certain what made my dad uncomfortable with the southern redneck since the only difference was geography.

We see that in Christ's lineage in Matthew as well.  There is enough in the first chapter of Matthew to write a string of country hits with all the cheating, lying, and murder that is Christ's family tree.  Abraham and Sarah, David, Solomon are certainly names that stand out, but each of them carries baggage with the sins they commit.  They are, in fact, no different than our own family trees if we dig deeply enough.  And Christ, who brings the lineage to its conclusion in Matthew, is the only branch of that tree that can remove the blots and stains of the history of his own family tree, and ours.

We are family, and like families in this sin-filled world, our family trees are filled with lives that are broken.  Like Christ's lineage, the only assurance to heal that brokenness is Christ.  We lift a prayer of thanksgiving for Christ and for the healing he brings to a broken world.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Devotion 12.1.16

When it came to naming your child or children, how did you go about it?  My mom once told me about the naming process for me, but I've long since forgotten the length or time of the discussion.  When it came to our own children, we liked names that had scriptural roots.  When I taught, you can see names that have scriptural backgrounds, family backgrounds, or are names that are creations based on various choices made by parents.  I've seen names that were combinations of mom and dad's name.

We take the naming process seriously.  I remember hearing Will Farrell say he and his wife wanted names that would be hard to pronounce and names that kids would tease them about.  "I think we accomplished both," he said.

In Advent, we see God name his Son and his Son's cousin.  Gabriel, visiting Zechariah in the temple, tells him his soon-to-be conceived son is to be named John. Later, we see in Luke (1:57 - 64) a discussion occur after John is born.  Relatives (of course, they always have an opinion about how we name our children) ask Elizabeth his name and she answers he is to be called John.  "None of your relatives are to be called by this name," they respond, so they go to Zechariah who can certainly clarify this.  They ask him via sign language of some kind (he had been stricken dumb - speechless - after doubting Gabriel's assurance he and Elizabeth would have a son at their advanced age).  He wrote, "His name is John."

They don't disclose this is God's desire for his name at this point, but they carry through faithfully in God's desire for his name.  The name in Hebrew means "God has shown favor," which for the older couple meant a son, and which for us meant that a man will come and tell people the good news that is to come, to prepare them and us for Christ's coming.

Continue to pray for preparation in Advent as we seek God's will and desires in our lives.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Devotion 11.30.16

Never formally studied "Generational Studies," but I've participated in workshops put on by the experts.  It's interesting from the standpoint of history, which I have studied formally, because there are trends in history, and in generational studies, you see the trends.  One such trend is fairly easy to see:  Each generation believes the one following it is fraught with issues and has problems - namely weaker, perhaps lazier, has it easier, and falling away from the mores and culture we knew.  Each generation says that about the next.

I look at a picture, the only picture I have, of my grandfather, Lewis Farris, my mother's dad.  He's standing at an oil rig in the 1930s with other men working in the field, his fedora is beaten and tattered and smeared with grease and as are his clothes down to his boots.  I've heard a phrase from people who knew that time which I loved, "The rigs were made of wood and the men were made of steel."  So, as I think about generations dealing with the newer generation and I look at this picture, I understand it is entirely possible to almost certainty that my grandfather's generation was looked down upon by my great-grandfather's generation.  Lewis did not serve in World War I, so there among the generation before him is already a strike.  And the rigs used in the 1930s were probably more "modernized" compared to those in the days of Spindletop, so I'm certain he heard from old-timers about how easy working oil rigs had gotten.

Each generation has to learn on its own, it seems, and decide whether or not to see the world the way the generation before it did.  Each generation also sees itself as the promise that can deliver the world from the woes it now faces (JFK's "the torch is passed" sentiment).

As we prepare for the Christ, the coming of Christ in Advent and his return, we look at scripture to see how they prepared generations.  In Luke 1, God prepares the way for Jesus by preparing the way for John who would teach about the Messiah.  God sends Gabriel to tell an aged Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son, and "you will name him John.... and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,... to turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." (1:14 - 17)

We've heard this plea before.  The nation of Israel needs to turn its hearts toward God is a common theme in the Old Testament, and it is in the beginning chapter of a book in the gospel.  What does this mean in our lives?  As we bemoan the next generation, its faithlessness and lack of direction, please note that we can say that about ourselves, and that it is our duty to give the gospel to each generation we meet in ways that we have at our disposal.  In a season of preparation, our call is to prepare, ourselves and the other generations. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, November 28, 2016

Devotion 11.29.16

I've begun to enjoy genealogy in recent weeks.  What began late in my mother's life really began to bloom after a family reunion with my dad's family in Minnesota.  I was familiar with my dad's genealogy because that part of my family has been around all my life.  The Baldner family is very German with my grandfather's parents (my great-grandparents) being the first generation born on US soil in the 1870s.  My paternal grandmother was the first born in the US in 1900 after her parents landed in the late 1890s from areas in Europe that no longer exist but are part of today's Germany.

On my mom's side?  Who knew?  A series of tragedies comprises my mother's early life.  Born on April 16, her dad (my grandfather), was taken in an oil field explosion in East Texas on April 17.  My mom wasn't even sure he had learned of her birth that spring day since phone calls were spotty at best.  Not long after my mom was born, her sister died of leukemia and then her mother was taken by uterine cancer.  So, the Farris family (my mom's maiden name) was nothing I could identify with because they were gone.

After weeks of looking, though, I've been able to trace their history in Central/East Texas beginning around the same time as my dad's family settled in Minnesota.  The Farris family is Scottish/English and my grandmother's family (Birge) came through Louisiana, Mississippi and Scotland/Irish descent and settled in Texas in the late 1800s.  Farming drove the Baldner family and farming drove the early Farris/Birge families, but as you read the census reports in the late 1800s, you see the impact of oil on their occupations stated on the US Census.

As I've learned more about my mom's genealogy, I've been interested in meeting people I never knew, and I'm comforted in many ways.  First, it means I'm at least a fourth generation Texan.  That in and of itself gives me a certain sense of history.  Second, with their migration from Europe and occupations mentioned, I'm fairly certain the they weren't slave-holders.  It looks like both sides of the family were working men and women, but not large property holders with farms so large that the families themselves couldn't handle the work.

Genealogy is important to us.  We learn of it at the very beginning of Matthew for the Christ, who meticulously details his genealogy in the first 16 verses of chapter 1.  Why is that so important, as we begin the observation of Advent, for Christ's lineage to be so detailed?  Luke notes that prior to his birth, Mary and Joseph have to go Bethlehem (the city of David) "because he was of the house and lineage of David" (2:4).  Cleary the need to link Christ to David was important to those making the case he was the Messiah, who was to come from the lineage of David. 

We prepare in Advent for the coming of Christ.  Certain of his lineage, we await our coming Messiah to return in triumph for believers.  Pray that we spread the good news of the message of Christ so that others may believe and prepare with us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Devotion 11.28.16

Kliff is  our man.  So we heard on Sunday from Athletic Director Hocutt who had a press conference to say, essentially, "Not the season we wanted or where we want to be.  Kliff has agreed to delegate some offense decisions, and he will spend time dedicated to defense."  For those of you not familiar with the situation, Texas Tech will not make a bowl game for the second straight year and has a losing record for the second straight year.  Coach Kliff Kingsbury, extended in his first year through 2017 for a large sum of money, has not delivered on expectations and after the last game of the year against Baylor, many fans were saying the team needed new leadership.  Now the athletic director says no, he's still our man.

There are many ways to read this.  You could take him at his word.  Kliff is the man.  Or you could read between the lines.  Was this an administrative trick meant to draw a line that Kliff can claim he retained his job to other teams interested in his skills?  "No, I wasn't fired.  I kept my job, so I'm not looking because I don't have a job."  That makes a candidate more appealing in some cases.  Or, was it meant to draw a mutual line for Kliff, a Tech graduate with loyalty to Tech, who would then say, "No, I'm not interested in defense, so I'm planning on leaving and not asking for my large payout due me because I'm leaving and not being fired"?

You make the call, but if you have felt dissatisfied with the Tech football program over the past few years, the message for now is "more of the same."  Not that Kliff isn't a fan favorite or appealing to the team.  When he was chosen, there was a candlelight vigil when it was announced in celebration of the choice.  He was, in short, a logical choice.  Kliff would deliver on the promise started earlier that the big offense and daring plays would win out because he had led that offense for a time as a Tech QB.  Kliff would be that return to that promise.  Now, Tech fans the world over have started saying, "Defense is important."  We will, over the course of the next few months, need to see the plan unfold.

In Advent, starting in earnest yesterday (Sunday, Nov 27), we observe Christ's coming to earth in anticipation of his eventual return.  Advent marks that point where God's plan unfolds involving his Son, Jesus Christ, born into this world as an infant.  As Isaiah notes in chapter 9, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given." (v 6)  We begin the observance of the coming Christ and witness God's plan unfold as we await for God's final plans to unfold.  Pray that we remain vigilant in our time of preparation during this time and that our preparation continue throughout our days on earth.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Devotion 11.21.16

So, Tony Romo stood before the press last week and delivered his simple statement:  Dak is the starter.  I am not.  Dak deserves it.  Dak earned it.  Dak "Roger, Troy" Prescott is the new quarterback for Dallas and is their deliverer, their redeemer.  To hear the Cowboy faithful talk, Dak has righted the ship that was listless for so long and put them on their rightful path to a championship.

Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboy owner, has a "however" to add to this story.  That "however" is Tony Romo.  Tony and Jerry have formed a bond that is unexplained (at least I've not found a story or article that describes their relationship beyond owner and player).  Jerry, even after Tony said Dak was the starter, said Tony will play for a Super Bowl winner as the QB.  Odd, with Prescott's success, to declare that Tony still has it even though he hasn't taken a snap in the regular season as Dallas enjoys a successful season unlike any they've seen in a long time.

In the era in which the success on the college field doesn't necessarily transfer to the NFL, especially at the QB position, Dak has demonstrated that he picked up where he left off at Mississippi State, even as a rookie this year.  Coupled with the other rookie in the backfield, Ezekial Elliott, Dallas has a potent offense and a great record thus far.

The people of Israel were looking for their deliverer as well, in a more serious vein than NFL football.  The man who would be the next David, that young unassuming man who became a man after God's own heart.  Their deliverer would not come with Dak's or David's credentials though.  He would come in a lowly state and not be recognized by those who were anticipating the messiah to deliver them.

We can be like the nation of Israel, looking for our redeemer and deliverer and often times forgetting to turn to our Lord and Savior.  "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believers in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." 

Pray that we share the good news of this savior, this redeemer, with the world, not to condemn it, but to offer that saving grace that Christ gives.

Hope Men's Ministry

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Devotion 11.22.16

The demise of football has been a slow erosion, with the game imploding on itself.  Ratings are down and the attacks are subtle but nevertheless exist.

It started with the idea of the game, a punishing and grueling sport, injuring people in unseen ways.  Head injuries with the athlete recovering at first and yet having the injuries return later in life in forms of dementia, depression, and other debilitating diseases.  These stories became a steady stream of reporting.  Then the game showed it had no real method for governing the unseemly.  Men who abuse their spouses or significant others.  Men who are charged with serious crimes, still allowed to play as the judicial process plays out.  To make matters worse, a guy gets suspended for allegedly doctoring footballs (really, he was suspended for interfering with the internal investigation) and receives a harsher penalty than a man who admitted to striking his girlfriend (until the video surfaced and he hasn't played since).  So, the public moves on to other things that aren't quite as violent in their eyes (like it did with boxing in the 1970s) and maybe not quite as sordid.

Football is analogous to life.  We find ourselves unable to recognize our own behaviors and sinful nature, unable to govern ourselves which eventually leads to our own death.  In John 3, Christ talks about that this way, "And this is the judgment:  the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."  (John 3:19 - 21)

While we are in the light, we know our works and deeds.  The church spreads the message of that light, as Christ noted earlier, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (3:17).  Pray that as we share the gospel message, we do it not to condemn, but to save.  Pray that we share the light we received through faith with others, so that they to may have everlasting life through the grace given through faith.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Devotion 11.10.16

Today, the Marine birthday.  Tell a Marine Happy 232nd birthday today of the US Marine Corp.  Always celebrated Nov 10 of every year.

What role the conscience?  I've heard some say the conscience is there to prompt guilt in order to convict you of your sin.  Perhaps, but Luther writes, "...just as justification would be uncertain if it depended upon the condition of our works or the law and were not freely received on account of Christ through mercy, so also hope would be truly uncertain if it depended upon our works, because the law always accuses consciences."  So, perhaps drives you to guilt, but useless if left in our own hands to remedy the offense.

"Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:22)

God provides that cleansing that our consciences may need, and Christ alone.  Nothing we do. 

Pray that we receive the free gift of mercy and that we move forward from that point in accordance with God's will.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Devotion 11.9.16

Again, our apologies, but the server is now up and running but the listservs (groups) were not recovered.  It's now being rebuilt which will take time. Working on a Facebook page for the men for future potentially handicapping injuries to our system like this. 

If I were to walk up to you and say, "All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood," (Romans 3:23 - 25) you would probably say, "Yes, I understand."

Believe it or not, that was a radical statement in its day.  Luther, 20 years after his 95 theses (1537), developed that confession, yet this notion of a free gift of grace does not settle well with the human mind.  Why?  Hundreds of years of teaching to the contrary, in which grace was something earned (maybe thousands actually).  Maybe even our own sinful nature, in which our forgiveness of someone and moving forward is determined by the terms or conditions we've weighed them with.

We thank God for not having strings attached to our grace we live under through faith.  We ask that we live according by showing that same grace to those we clash with.  We ask that this clarity of faith always be before us and that it not get clouded by our own reasoning.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Devotion 11.4.16

So we awaken today to the news that the Chicago Cubs are World Series champions!  That's the second championship to visit the city of Chicago in this century, which in a humorous kind of way, is twice as many as we have here in Texas in the existence of our franchises.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that Charlie Brown never got to kick the football because Lucy always managed to successfully pull it back in every frame that famous relationship was shown, and with winning the series, the Cubs would no longer be the Charlie Browns of baseball, the lovable losers.  Well, the Cubs kicked the football last night in a game that Hollywood couldn't script.  Game 7, extra-innings, rain delay, with odds against the eventual victor before the game started (baseball metrics types had all the stats that told you why the Cubs wouldn't win the game).  It had it all.

What metrics (statistics on steroids) can't measure is spirit.  Spirit, the element that is as true as oxygen in the air but just as invisible, gives us life.  We speak of spirit in sports terms.  We recognize spirit by saying things in life about the spirit of the agreement, the spirit of the effort, and the spirit behind the entire event.  The Cubs, the fans, and the nation to a large degree (except the hard of heart who just don't like the Cubs), those who love baseball and those outside of baseball, were caught up in the spirit of the series and the possibility of the Cubs winning.

We speak of spirit in faith, our own faith.  The Holy Spirit comes to us in our baptism and writes faith on our hearts.  We speak of spirit in terms of our faith.  A familiar psalm refers to both beautifully as David writes, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore unto me, the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit."  (51:10 - 12)

We receive God's Spirit in our sacraments.  We ask for God's Spirit to be with us and renew us, to give us strength.  We ask for God's Spirit to restore our spirit.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Devotion 11.3.16

Looks like the church has turned to Facebook for announcements, including the upcoming 3Bs.  Please help remind folks about the event, Nov 12.

I'm watching Game 7 of the World Series. Who will win?  Apparently a number of people want to know because the ratings for this series are high.  In fact, more people watched it this weekend than NFL football, which hasn't happened in a long time.

Of course, that is because of two things:  the story that is the Chicago Cubs and football has lost its mojo this year.  The Cubs are the team you like even if you aren't a fan of theirs.  They have a history in baseball, their ball park, and the fan base.  How do you not like a Cub?  Football, on the other hand, has eroded its fan base these past few years as it looks awkward on things that should be easy and it looks foolish when things seem clear.  Then, you couple that with the on-field protests this year in a heated political season and  people begin to say, "I've had enough."

Why can't football appear to govern itself?  That question isn't just for football.  Why can't people govern themselves?  Why can't corporations?  It seems as though we bailed out a number of large corporations in 2008 under the idea "too big to fail."  People, it seems, make bad decisions in their personal lives and corporately.  And just when we think we've learned from our mistakes and our past, we make those mistakes all over again.

Absent from these conversations is the whole simple notion that we are sinners, and as sinners, we lead lives that are not God-pleasing.  As we note in Proverbs, "A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed - without remedy."  (29:1) The problem is there is no real remedy because sin has corrupted the flesh.  The only remedy in God's eyes is Christ.  "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Our forgiveness for our sin comes through faith in Christ.  We pray a prayer of thanksgiving for that truth.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Devotion 11.2.16

Server still down.  Many announcements to be made:  Men's Brisket "The Big Smoke" Cook a success with many thanks, more later; 3Bs just around the corner (less than two weeks); and much more!

Joe Maddon, the Chicago Cub manager, said something profound the other day (we could be talking about the Cleveland Indians Series' win this morning, so this is written blind of the outcome).  When asked about the Cubs 3 - 1 deficit, he said reflectively, "You know, I told them this is just a game.  That's all it is.  So I told them they needed to treat it like this and enjoy this moment because it may never happen again.  Enjoy the fun of this and being in the Series." (I treat it as a quote, but it is a paraphrase.)

"It's just a game."  Wow, how sobering to hear that while at the same time refreshing.  Not this, "Fellas, we got one chance and it's that moment that will define us for the rest of our days and beyond.  Your mommas and daddies are watchin' and you have to make them proud.  The city is watchin' and you can't let them down.  We've come this far, so you've got to dig deep...."  No, he merely says, in truth, it's just a game.

How have things in this world become so serious that we can't just treat it as "life."  I thought of my own parenting when I heard Maddon say that (yes, just my own, not yours, while I care about yours, I have my own worries and joys mixed in with my two).  Did I ever look at my children (now grown) and say, "You know what?  It's not what derives meaning in life for me.  School is yours to learn to handle and enjoy.  It's only important to me that you seek to do well and do good." (I did in fact say those kinds of things, in between things like, "Why do we have to remind you so much to get things done?  Don't you want to show your own initiative?  Do you want us parenting you until you're 30?" among other such gems.)

Jesus, when asked about life, never answered the question.  Instead, he takes us on a walk.  After the Pharisees mumble about Christ eating with sinners (Luke 15), Christ begins talking about loss.  Lost sheep, a lost coin, and then gives us this beautiful story of a man whose son squanders his portion of the wealth and gets lost in life, finally living as a beggar eating what he is feeding pigs (The Prodigal Son).  The son finally comes to his senses and decides to go back to his father and throw himself at his mercy, expecting he might be fortunate enough to work the fields with the laborers.  However, upon returning, he is met with open arms by the father, who rejoices upon seeing his son from a distance.  Even after the confession, the father, clothes him, brings him in, and has a feast to celebrate.  After a protest by his oldest son, the father says, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."  (v 32)

What's really important?  Faith and salvation are at the top of the list I'm thinking.  Everything else flows from there.  What do we stress to our children as being important?  If you are like me, maybe not what's truly important as often as I should have. 

Pray we stress to our children the importance of faith in their lives and that we live that with them daily.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, October 31, 2016

Devotion 11.1.16

The server at Hope is down as of Monday, Oct 31, 2016, and it has been for the past week.  The devotions are emailed every day from that server, so that is why you aren't getting devotions routinely.  Our apologies for the lengthy break in our daily devotion life.

Halloween is now a $7 billion dollar industry.  What was once a simple day of candy exchange and simple costumes has become a highly celebrated day with adult parties in full regalia, "trunk or treats" as in our own church, and houses decorated much like Christmas.  Oh, and we also allow our children to celebrate the day as well.

Did you know, however, that Martin Luther used October 31, 1517, to tack his 95 theses to the door at the church (Castle Church) in Wittenburg, Germany?  It is written that Luther used the door because the church, located on a university campus, served as a primary community board, like a bulletin board, and he chose the day because of several reasons.  First and foremost would be the traffic of those coming to the church to pay indulgences to see the collection at the church on All Saints Day (November 1).  With much of his concern centering on the power of the papacy (the pope) and indulgences, his theses would be read by those coming to the church that day.  Essentially he knew there would be high foot traffic.

Who are the "saints" observed on these occasions?  We are.  Those in Christ who've gone before us, our generations, and those who will be in Christ after us are all considered saints.  The readings for All Saints Day come from Revelation 7, 1 John 3, and Matthew 5.  In Revelation, we see the saints standing before God, clothed in white and serving God while he protects them.  In Matthew, Christ begins his first sermon in his ministry with the familiar "Beatitudes," and in 1 John 3, John writes, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is."

So, was Luther's hammering on the door with the 95 Theses the first "knock" of Halloween?  Did Luther anticipate the pen that wrote those theses would send shock waves felt almost 500 years later?  Do we think, each Halloween, of the true gravity of this day in our faith lives?

Pray that we strive to be with the saints whom we celebrate each year, and that we strive to imitate them in our faith lives.  Pray for those saints who ultimately lose their lives for their faith and pray for their safety as they seek to spread God's Word in hostile environments.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Devotion 10.20.16

My godfather's name is Jim Swenson, and Uncle Jimmy died early in my life (sometime while in college or early in my career I believe).  We met when we traveled to Minnesota in my childhood, but my age distanced me from real interaction with him, except early in my college years I when I went to visit.  At that point, Jimmy, a saxophonist and a member of a Big Band from the Big Band era, sat in the basement with me and my cousin playing reel-to-reel tapes for the better part of a night as Jimmy expounded on the virtuosity of the music he was playing.  Jimmy's voice had a sound that you expected from a jazz musician.  I, too, had played a sax in a Big Band in high school, and our band won several awards. So, I had an appreciation for the music he played, his discussion, and his analysis of what made it great, as did my cousin.

During the recent family reunion though, I learned something of Jimmy that made me stop in my tracks, and it will you as well.  Jimmy served in a tank crew in World War II, either as a commander of it or a driver, in (are you ready for this?) North Africa and Italy.  If you know the war, you know the blood shed and outright devastation that occurred there, and American tank crews were particularly vulnerable (see the movie "Fury" for a realistic taste of that experience).  The German tanks were, in a word, superior in every way to the American tanks with speed, firepower, and armor.  That didn't stop our boys in the war from serving, but many met their end in that duty.  Unfortunately our air power, which is supposed to run cover, wasn't much of a match for German air power either early in the war effort.

I told my cousin, when he mentioned that at the reunion, that he needed to see the movie "Fury."  "It won't change your opinion of your father," I said "But it will change your perspective in a way."  It's said Jimmy uttered nothing about the war when he returned, and he went on to marry my dad's sister (my godmother still living), have three children who all went into a medical field, and work as in management at Hormel.  He lived a "normal" life.  In truth, Jimmy was the glue of the group when it came together and could make everyone laugh as he talked and joked. I still get chills just thinking of what he saw, felt, and lived during his time in battle, and how that changed him as a man.

My dad, and most of my other uncles, served at that time.  They all went in with assumed risks.  My dad talked freely of his experience in the Pacific.  I never really had the chance to talk to the others with the barrier of age and distance.  I don't know what I'd ask if I had the chance or if I would just stay silent. 

It took me to a simple verse in John 15:  "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."  (v 13).  I suppose I'd thank Jimmy if I had the chance.  Perhaps we should, at all times, take that opportunity to thank someone for sacrificing of themselves in time, and maybe even thank their families for what they gave up, and potentially lost. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 10.19.16

As I sat in the room where we gathered for our reunion, I listened to the families that comprise the family I belong to, I was interested to listen to the conversation as we caught up with one another.  Conversations were cordial, but they usually centered around two topics:  what have you been doing these days and tell me about your children, grandchildren and other family members.

I remember vividly a sermon I once heard on the strength of a father's hands.  Hands so strong they could turn a bolt and nut without a wrench.  Hands that could build.  And yet hands so strong that they could tear down and put fear in hearts as they rose in anger.

I listened and talked of my own children, and I wondered with the theme of family what kind of families we had.  Were they families that were welcoming and inviting?  A place to retreat from the world and to be built up?  OR, were they families where the outer world was more welcoming and we left home to get away from the hell that was home?  I certainly saw both as a principal.  The school could be a place where we added to what the home was developing, or we were the escape where the kids came for at least seven hours of peace.

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord," writes Paul. What kind of home do we provide? 

Pray that we provide a God-pleasing household where his Word is prevalent, his love and our love between one another is present, and where we build one another up. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, October 17, 2016

Devotion 10.18.16

I was privileged to be part of the Baldner Family Reunion this past weekend in Austin, Minnesota.  Austin is the city of my fathers before me, my dad and his father Roy Baldner.  The family settled south of there originally after immigrating in the 1870s to Adams Township, Minnesota before moving into the town of Austin.  I had been asked to organize the reunion this year which includes my grandfather's six daughters and one son still remaining in my father's immediate family.  The ages of that group range from 97 years of age to 67 years of age with nine children in the family in all (including my dad) with my grandfather remarrying after losing the first wife (my biological grandmother) to uterine cancer in the 1930s.  So two moms produced the family of nine, and the grandchildren (people in my generation of the family) range in age from older than my grandfather's youngest child, my uncle, to people much younger than me.  Needless to say, the next generation, our own children, are in an age range of 50 years old to a recently born baby of one year of age.  Such is family.

If I were to be asked, and I haven't been for the record, to say what one statistic of modernity troubles me the most, I'd have to say the shift, culturally, of the nuclear family.  This came to my mind as I sat and talked to people I haven't seen in years (decades as a matter of fact). My aunts, now in their 70s - 90s, and their families have a nucleus that is present when we are gathered.  These families have worked over these past years to help aging parents (my own and my cousins' families as well), and have borne the burden of taking care of grandchildren as parents my age work or divorce and need assistance from family to ease the burden of single-parenthood.  Our family is not perfect, but it seems to have survived the storms we face in life and takes care of the needs within the family.

This family, as has been designed for many generations, provides the fabric for a sense of identity, for belonging, and for providing the fundamentals of life in terms of shelter, food, clothing, and other basic items needed to survive and have hope for thriving.  Societal types cite any number of occurrences that have helped create the modern problems we face, but the family's dissolution has to be a main problem as is the church's lack of ability or will to intervene as a church community.  It's not oversimplification to say such because scripture is filled with parents' commands for their children. 

"Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck." Proverb 1:8-9 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

We know the importance of our calling as parents.  And as a church, we assume that responsibility in the absence of the parent as we recently stated in baptisms in our church. 

We should pray and actively seek methods to ensure we are providing a rich, Christian environment for our children who may not be in broken families or in families that are intact.  Family is undeniably important, and our role as fathers and parents is equally undeniably important. Pray for continued guidance as fathers and parents to "train up our children in the way he, or she, should go." 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Devotion 10.12.16

I was fortunate enough to read "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau around 45 years of age. I had escaped mandatory readings in high school, and I was somewhat glad because I could read it on my own terms and not the teacher's.

Thoreau is an interesting individual, driven to escape the trappings of society by escaping the isolation of the woods in Massachusetts in the 1800s.  Thoreau had issues at the time with society in general and wanted to get away from it all.  His notes while on his journey led to his book, "Walden."

Interestingly, his isolation and desire for aloneness remind me of a passage in Mark 6.  They have returned from being sent out to minister and are telling Christ of all that happened.  Christ then says, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." (6:31)

That invitation is for us as well.  When do we spend time with Christ, in His Word and in prayer?  Where do we go to find the time to listen to Him as He tells us His desires for us in our lives?

Pray that we find time and use time to listen to Christ in mediation and prayer.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Devotion 10.11.16

How and when do we go to scripture?  What do we turn to the Word of God for?  This past week in Sunday School, I (Mr. King) was talking to Brent Smith (Gordy) in our opening puppet show.  Gordy was wearing a chamois in order to divine God's desires for him like Gideon did with lamb skin (Judges 6).  Unfortunately, Gordy wanted to know what soccer team to play for and wanted more of his mom's chocolate cheese cake.

Eugene Peterson admonishes this kind of attitude toward use of God's Word and going to God by calling it the "new trinity" of  the "holy wants, holy needs, and holy feelings."  His admonishment is that we have taken God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and made him in our own likeness, and seek his will to affirm our own.  The Word of God, then, becomes our source for answers for perceived needs and known desires, and to gain a feeling (inspiration is Peterson's word) rather than as a place to go to God on His terms, to hear His Word and literally digest His Word, and to learn about God and what His desires are for us as hearers and followers of His Word (Peterson, Eat This Book, 2006).

Mr. King told Gordy about Matthew 7, where Christ instructs us to ask, seek, and knock.  But think of it like this:  ask, and it will be given to you (God will answer you in His time).  Seek, and you will find it (read God's Word on His terms to learn about God and His desires for us as followers in our lives).  Knock, and it will be opened to you (you have to do something as you discern God's desires).

Pray that we go to God on His terms, that as men of God we go to Him to hear His desires for us on His terms.  Pray that we act in accordance to God's desires for us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Devotion 10.10.16

(Written in the absence of knowledge of the outcome of the Texas game tonight)

I don't dislike the Texas Rangers.  As I've said before, I've followed them since their inception after moving from Washington in the early 1970's.  And like the Astros, both teams delivered on disappointment.  We baseball fans in the state of Texas had two losers annually (or perennial losers I believe is how sports' writers say it...and I'm not a sports' writer).  By the 1990's, both teams began a consistent winning program, and by the 2000's, we had three World Series' appearances, one by Houston and two by Texas.  Then MLB put us together in the same division to create a "rivalry."  That said, I've not pulled against the Rangers, I just haven't pulled for them, until they play Toronto.

Toronto's bat tossing obnoxious form of play last year led to a formal punch to the face that was a shot heard 'round the world in the last game between the two teams in the regular season this year.  The beer tossing fans in Toronto (one at a baby last year and one at a player this year) probably threw beers in the bar at one another when that hook caught the jaw of Bautista.  That's a true rivalry.

Rivalries are healthy in many instances with gentle teasing and kidding occurring between the competitors (players and fans alike).  We identify with our team and we know them by their literal colors and MLB apparel.  Rivalries can get ugly too and result in brawls and arrests. 

Take that idea to faith.  As Christians, we are called to tell the world about the gospel of Christ.  Yet, as Christians, we have obstacles that keep us from doing that.  While we know we are supposed to tell the truth in love to the non-believer, the command to do so can be ignored for many reasons.  The non-believer comes in many shapes and sizes, yet like our rivals in sports, some are more apparent than others.  Did I talk to the man about faith and introduce him to Christ?  No, he had a turban on his head, was dark-skinned, spoke with an accent that led me to believe he was an Arab or Persian, probably a Muslim.  I turned and kept going.  I didn't want to offend, I felt resentment, or I was intimidated.  That testimony can be prevented by less obvious reasons as well when the opportunity to witness makes itself available.

Yesterday in Bible Study, we read the account in John as Christ goes to the well of Jacob in chapter four and asks a Samaritan woman for a drink.  That act crossed cultural and religious boundaries between Jews and Samaritans, yet we see Christ take an innocuous request for the most part, a drink of water, and make it into testimony about himself and offers his redeeming grace, "never be thirsty again, and become a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (4:14)  Our savior leads by example, showing us that he will break through the barriers that have been erected to take his message to the lost.  So, too, for us. 

Pray that we overcome our own inhibitions and witness when the opportunity presents itself.  Pray that we work to create those opportunities asking for God's Spirit to provide us with the words necessary to reach the non-believer.  Pray that God place those opportunities in front of us and that we overcome those obstacles that keep us from being witnesses.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Devotion 10.6.16

We sang a song that I tend to take notice of when it is played on Sunday.  The theme reminds me to see the world as Jesus does, not as media, Hollywood, peers, or sinful nature sees it.  But, as Jesus sees it.  “Give me your eyes for just a moment” is a line in the song. 

You can listen to the song through the link below or by clicking here.  It’s a great song, but here is the point of the devotion… how would things be different if Jesus was the one to influence us more than media, more than politics, more than fear, more than society?  What if our eyes saw through Jesus’ eyes, our experiences guided by His Word, our reactions tempered by His patience, our sympathy strengthened by his mercy and compassion?

Sometimes I feel as if I am fed with eyes of hate, eyes of judgment or anger, not always Jesus’ eyes.  I think if we stopped, paused for a moment and asked ourselves, “How does Jesus see this?” we would find a slow change in our lives, for the better.  And think if enough people stopped and did the same thing, the world would start to look different.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Devotion 10.5.16

Pastor Hiner returns today.

Sunday was a good day at church.  We had a unique guest speaker, Pr. Karim Baidaoui from Disciples of the Way Lutheran Outreach.  Pr. Karim is from Morocco, raised as a Muslim to a Jewish mother and Muslim father, now a Lutheran Pastor.  You can’t make this kind of stuff up.  As I suspect everyone else was, I was expecting him to share grand stories of his conversion, his life immediately after conversion, the challenges of being Muslim, of being Christian and so on. 

Whereas there were some stories that would perk our ears, for the most part he was reserved in those stories.  Instead, what I saw, was a pastor excited to proclaim how God’s salvation is the unbelievable free gift of Jesus Christ.  And how that salvation, that gift, puts a fire in our lives for our neighbor.  No matter how different that neighbor is.

“Fan into flame the gift,” is how Pr. Karim described it from 2 Timothy 1:6.  There are gifts that we receive that are good to look at, hang on a wall perhaps.  Then there are gifts that are meant to be used.  The grace of God is a gift indeed, but one that is not to sit idle, rather to be put to work within all of us. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Devotion 10.4.16

What do you do if you move to an area that doesn't support your team?  Let's say you move to a town, we'll call it "Lubbock," and learn that "Lubbock" considers itself a suburb of Dallas (if you want to discuss this further, I'd be more than happy to and will pick the time and place of our're buying).  We'll then say that "Lubbock" roots for two teams:  the Rangers and the Cowboys (even sends its hometown team, the Red Raiders, to Dallas for a "home game").  Do you pitch your home team gear and begin rooting for the teams in this town called "Lubbock" or do you remain steadfast?

No, I kept the Astros gear and sit in my lonely little chair in a lonely little spot in a bar to watch games periodically, mumbling to myself and acting defiantly.  There are others in this town called "Lubbock" who root for the Astros you know. (The St. Louis Cardinal franchise, for those of you who know me, is a separate discussion that involves my father-in-law.)  In other words, you remain faithful to the cause.

In another scenario, what do you do if you are a Christian and you get dropped into a crowd or move to an area where you are scarce in number?  Luther wrote about this and Pastor Baidaoui shared his quote in Bible Study the other day:  "If a Christian was in a place where there are no Christians he needs no other call than to be a Christian, called and anointed by God from within.  Here it is duty to preach and to teach the gospel to erring heathens or non-Christians because of the duty of brother love, even though no man called him to do so."  In other words, you go about living your call in Christ Jesus, maybe even with more of a burden than when in a host of witnesses.

Baidaoui talked about three kinds of churches:  good, better, and apostolic.  Clearly, by his definition, the apostolic church is the one that strives to achieve Christ's commission in our lives by creating disciples who are empowered to make more disciples.  It's not a permission giving process, but rather a position of seeing the need and filling it because the disciple knows it's his or her commission.

As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:  "So don't be embarrassed to speak up for our Master (Christ) or for me, his prisoner.  Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us.  We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work.  We had nothing to do with it.  It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it.  But we know it now." (The Message)

We cannot shirk from our duty, and in truth, it is our purpose and passion.  This is our prayer and our constant devotion - to be disciples for Christ and to be part of the body of Christ in witness to the non-believer.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Devotion 10.3.16

What is your greatest fear?  I'll go ahead and give you the answer:  death.  We know the day is coming, and yet we don't talk about it.  As one speaker I heard noted when he asked, "How many here look forward to heaven?" Every hand raised.  "And how many want to go now?"  People in the audience were truthful and lowered their hands.

As Christians, we know the promise of our faith in Christ, and yet we, too, dread that actual hour.  It makes sense, then, that perhaps our greatest fear of the terrorist, the Muslim terrorist to be specific, is the harm and damage his or her act creates when they take lives in a brash attack, killing people going about daily life whose only concern is going to the next activity that day.  That fear creates anger and resentment within us.

As Pastor Baidaoui from Dallas, Texas, a Moroccan who was once Muslim and now is a Lutheran pastor noted on Sunday, that fear is the work of the enemy (Satan) acting through non-believers, Muslims being one group in that sphere.  This plays out in the fall of man, when Adam tells God, "I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid." (Genesis 3:19)  Afraid?  Satan again says as much to God when he enters a debate about Job, "Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?  You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your had and touch all tht he has, and he will curse you to your face." (Job 1:9 - 11 Job has nothing to fear, so I want to strike him to create that fear.)

Satan plays to our fears.  It causes us to retreat.  Yet Christ tells us as much in John 16, when he says, "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.* And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.  But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you." (1 - 4)

Christ tells us to have courage, and he also instructs us to remember they do not know the Father nor Christ.  Consequently, it is up to us to take the message of Christ to the non-believer, Muslim or other, and to share the Good News. Paul, once an enemy of Christ's and his followers, tells us this:  "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." (2 Timothy 1:6 - 9)

We have the opportunity, in this life, to bring the good news of Christ's suffering and death to a world hostile to that good news, including our own sinful nature.  Christ instructs us not to fear that world, and Paul reminds us to fan the flames of that faith of the gift of God.

Pray that we have the courage to take the message to our neighbor, to our community, and to those hostile to the good news.  Pray that we remain sober and alert for those opportunities and to know the world will continue to be hostile to the message, but that as disciples, we are taking the message to the lost for their own salvation.

*Pastor Baidaoui noted that the verse in John 16 (v 2) was the single best definition of jihad he read which ironically comes out of Christ's mouth, "Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God."

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Devotion 9.29.16

It is a great story.  Roy Hobbs is an exciting baseball prospect who shows promise, striking out the home run king on a train trip in the epic baseball story placed in the 1930s.  Roy returns an old man to actually play after a mysterious woman guns him down in his days of promise.  Roy fulfills the promise much to his team's owner's dismay as he has more money to gain keeping his team a loser.  As the New York Knight's, Roy's team, moves to the championship, the owner offers him money to lose the game.  Roy's response is an epic home run that makes the Knights the champions. The ball hits the lights as it leaves the park, causing a shower of electrical sparks that resembles a fireworks show.  The music, almost a fanfare of sorts, coupled with the shower of sparks and Roy running around the path, is the story of triumph of reaching the promise of your youth, good over evil, and a victory of the underdog.

So, when I learned who Jose Fernandez was Sunday while in Houston, I began to learn about a story of good over evil as he escaped communist Cuba, bringing his mother with him.  I learned about a young man who was an outstanding pitcher who was early in his promising career.  It all came crashing down early at the age of 24 due to a boating accident.  The Marlins, his team, returned to the field on Tuesday all wearing his number, 16, gathered at the mound, knelt down (for a different reason that others who are kneeling these days), prayed, and then tearfully hugged one another and the other team.  Imagine my surprise when the first batter for the Marlins, after ceremoniously taking the first pitch on the right side of the plate (Fernandez' side), turned to the left side of the plate and launched the first pitch into the upper deck.  Ironically, the second baseman who launched the epic home run has only a handful of home runs in a career of about nine years to this point.  He called it a miracle and told the team that if they didn't believe in God, they needed to, because he doesn't have the strength to launch one that far.  Tears streamed down his face as he ran the basepaths signaling a tribute to his lost teammate.  It is, as people said, the stuff stories are made of.

Our story, as seen in scripture, is a story of sin and death, and the promise of victory because of a faithful God, who sends his Son to dwell among us, die a cruel death, and rise again to give us that victory over sin, Satan, and death.  How do we dwell in the Word of God?  How do we ponder on God's Word and seek its meaning in our lives? 

Pray that we, "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." (Colossians 3:16)

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Devotion 9.28.16

Do you ever wonder about what that really means… that God is eternal.  That means there has never been a time when God was not and there will never be one.  Even more mind-blowing, God created time.  That means God just is.  (Right now minds are exploding or imploding depending on how hard you are thinking about this).  But this truth as taught in the Bible is not simply something that speaks to the mystery of God. 

When the eternal God is an eternal God for us, that is comforting.  Since God is eternal, His Word is also eternal.  God is unchanging, so the Word of God is also unchanging.  John 1 tells us that Jesus is that unchanging Word from which God spoke everything into existence.  And it is that unchanging Word that died for you.  The world changes, but the promises of God don’t.  Our realities change as we move through time, but the promises of God don’t. 

Society will change around us, but the promises of God don’t.  It is comforting to know that we have an unchanging, timeless God.  That means that at any time and in every situation, we have a home base to return to.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Devotion 9.27.16

The Word of God is not a trifle; it is a matter of life and death.  When one treats the Scriptures as mere empty words, it is life they are forfeiting.  John 20:30-31, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 

A quick summary of these verses from John could be as follows… The Bible points to Jesus, Jesus gives life.  Therefore, imagine what one forfeits by neglecting the Bible.  Our spiritual life begins by the reading, hearings, learning, marking, and inwardly digesting the words of the Bible as the prayer states.  This is where life begins.

Devotion 9.26.16

Eugene Peterson, theologian and author, tells the story of his grandson who at the ripe age of six was given a New Testament at a bible school function.  Peterson said that upon receiving the bible, prior to being able to read, his wife watched in the car as the grandson opened the book and held it.  When she inquired about what he was doing, he said, "I'm reading the bible."  The Petersons enjoyed that grandchild moment with a smile, but Eugene, as he thought about it, began to consider this:  It's the devil's own work to take what is presently endearing and innocent in Hans' (his grandson believing he was reading the bible at six) and perpetuate it into a lifetime of reading marked by devout indifference.

Think about that for a moment.  Can you be whatever your trade is at this moment (farmer, teacher, professor, attorney, investor, pilot, actor, etc. etc.) and not have invested study in that field?  In his work titled, "Eat This Book," (2006) Peterson writes further:  "There is only one way of reading that is congruent with our Holy Scriptures, writing that trusts in the power of words to penetrate our lives and create truth and beauty and goodness, writing that requires the reader who, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, 'does not always remain bent over his pages; he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood.'"

We are assured that faith alone is our saving grace, but think of the riches we rob ourselves of if we ignore the opportunity to delve deep into the Word of God to get to know and learn more of the Word (John 1) of God.

Yesterday we heard about a foundation of faith, the simple truth about where our foundation lies.  In Matthew 7, we learn of the wise builder:  "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (24 - 27)

Pray that we take God's Word and spend time in it, deepening our understanding of the "truth and beauty and goodness" that lies within as we deepen our foundation to prepare for life's certain storms.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Devotion 9.21.16

Pastor returned today. 

"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it." -1 Corinthians 3:10. 

I love to build things. When I'm mentally or even emotionally tired, building something with my hands can really recharge my brain. Or perhaps let rest a little from stress.  To me, there is nothing better than standing back and looking at accomplishments that come from my own hands. So, when there's a project to be done... No problem, I'll do it. If someone destroys my mailbox out front, just another opportunity to distress.  (This really happened).

But I wonder how I would feel if after all my prep work on a project someone else would come behind and finish the work and claim the success. Perhaps that would frustrate me, or relieve me. Depending on the project.  

Paul, speaking to the Corinthian church, encouraging them to grow in their faith reassures them of their foundation in Christ. Christ is the foundation, but Paul is the agent that laid the foundation of Christ in their lives. Apollos, another follower of Jesus, is the one who came later and built upon that foundation.  Paul doing the legwork.  Apollos doing the fun stuff of building and growing.  What amazes me most is that God uses people to lay that foundation and build upon it.  People like you and me. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, September 19, 2016

Devotion 9.20.16

(Pastor is on assignment, so I'm back.)

"It was beauty killed the beast." Carl Denham, "King Kong"

I have felt it for sometime, but in reading Ryan Hyatt's post (, as well as having conversations with him, I'm now inclined to say it.  The Big 12, numbering 10 teams, is dying.  The sin that originally cursed the Big 12's demise?  Money.  It exists in football in high numbers.  Greed is part of the game, and you might protest it if you'd like, but there is proof beyond measure (Texas Tech did lower the cost of a bottle of water at the stadium from $5 to $4 while increasing the cost of everything else).

Pride in the form of  greed as the original sin in the Garden (you want to be God when you have everything else) continues to this day in various forms.  In this case, UT got ahead of itself and made an agreement with ESPN (who is now paying a price for that decision according to the Wall Street Journal) and got its own network. Unfortunately, other conferences have their own networks, not individual teams, but UT began the wrecking ball in motion that year.  Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado left.  A&M may have been the wisest, going to the SEC, because they became a part of a highly publicized conference with its own network AND deepened its recruiting by doing so. 

So, it's now comical to listen to people, mostly from Texas Tech since that's where I am located, talk about proposed expansion with team such as BYU, Cincinnati, and Houston. Bringing those teams in, to hear it, will kill the Big 12.  Hate to say it, but it is already dying. As a Houston graduate, I'm inclined to advise them to stay put.  Their conference is growing in strength, and Houston, a team with a great record dating back to the 1960s, would probably not serve themselves well coming to a conference gasping for air.  "It was greed killed the Big 12."

Football in general, is a sport that may not have the means to survive itself.  Men grow stronger and faster and hit harder in an age where moms put helmets on their children who are learning to ride tricycles.  Yet the sins of the Big 12, and college football in general, are the demise of many programs (turning a blind eye to rules violations, laws, and other such things and the domination of money that creates the greed that leads to poor decisions).  .

So to ourselves.  Do we have the means in this life to save ourselves?  The answer, be it long or short, is no.  We did not overcome our turning away from God and looking to ourselves to become God in the Garden nor can we overcome the impact of sin now.  We can point the finger at football programs and say, "Bunch of greedy people who think they are above rules or the law" and not realize we are in the same boat in the same storm called sin. 

Yet a foundation of our faith is that God provides us with rescue.  Paul writes in Romans 5 that our hope is in the faith given freely from God in Christ.  "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." (v 1 and 2)

We pray for forgiveness from pride, greed and all the other sins that befall us.  We pray a prayer of thanksgiving in this faith that Christ gives us.

Hope Men's Ministry