Saturday, January 23, 2016

Devotion 1.25.16

Name a movie that, if it is on television while you are surfing the channels, will stop you dead in your tracks.  I have one, and when I've said this in groups, it tends to be one that several people will say, "Oh yeah, that's one of my top movies."  The Dead in Your Tracks list for me is topped by "The Shawshank Redemption," from Stephen King's book with the same name.

Andy Dufresne (du-frayne) is a man wrongfully arrested, tried, and finally imprisoned for the crime of murdering his wife.  This imprisonment is what turn's your stomach because he's innocent, and the story weaves of his survival in prison which in the end is thriving.  He used his intelligence to survive, play the system, make a set of friends who loved him as a brother, and then to escape to freedom and report the graft and corruption that occurs within Shawshank, the name of the prison.

Yes, I stop dead in my tracks.  I don't know why.  The story is gripping and the movie doesn't feel contrived.  It was the first to use Morgan Freeman as the narrator (and one of the stars) which gives it a narrative overview, so we see, with Freeman, the story from 30,000 feet.  In the end, you feel a tremendous amount of pity for the wrongful imprisonment and yet liberation at what Dufresne accomplished for his friends in prison.  A library, a frame of mind, inspiration, and hope.  He even helps one earn his diploma which has a twist of fate before it's over.  Andy has courage as far as I see it, and the story shows his courage unfold in prison.

Malcolm Gladwell writes of courage in "David and Goliath," "Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start.  Courage is what you earn when you've been through the tough times, and you discover they aren't so tough after all."

Scriptural courage?  Let's turn to Daniel who is part of God's plan in a twist of fate much like Andy Dufresne.  A righteous man who is captured by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, when he defeats Judah and brings to his court the "youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace and to teach them...."  Daniel is one of them.  The king renames his new servants and gives them a diet that, for all of us, is a king's meal.  Yet Daniel (and Israel) in captivity, "resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank.  Therefore he asked the chief  of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself." (Daniel 1:4 and 8)

Daniel stood his ground in the king's presence by asking to remain faithful to the strict Jewish diet, and more importantly, to follow that diet to honor God.  There is more to learn from Daniel other than diet.  How do we exhibit courage?  How do we serve God when it may not be the popular thing or even perhaps mandated?  Pray that God give us the same courage he gave Daniel when we need to make a stand and the wisdom to know when that is needed.

Hope Men's Ministry

(I believe Daniel is the source of Rick Warren's "Daniel Plan" which I've not read so I'm not intentionally copying from Warren if you have read it and note similarities.  Daniel has been covered before by Hope Men's Ministry and was part of a study conducted by then-Pastor Radkey of Hope referred to as "Gun's Up" for a retreat in 2010.  This does not borrow from that as well.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Devotion 1.21.16

If you were to be asked to name a tree that best describes you, what would you name?

I'm reminded of the meme (pictures with a title/subtitle that make you laugh) that circulated that featured a body like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and next to it a picture of a body like my own with the caption, "What I think I look like and what I actually look like."

So, are you a redwood like the trees pictured?  Are you the mighty oak as we talked about a few devotions ago?  Are you like the cypress trees along the river banks of the Guadalupe, much like the trees along the riverbank in the scripture passage in Numbers?  Are you like the fruit-bearing fig tree?

The redwood captures our imagination unlike any other tree.  They are literally giants.  As you look at the picture, keep in mind that the landscaping timbers that line the walking path are about 10 feet long, so compare that to the base of the trees along the path.  Yet for all its might, a redwood is delicate. 

Look at the leaf of the redwood.  The leaf is responsible for drawing in nutrients for the tree, and the tree has a shallow root system compared to other trees.  As you walk through a redwood forest, it is not uncommon to see several laying on the floor of the forest, root systems almost non-existent.   

David examines the kind of tree he believes himself to be in Psalm 52.  "I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.  I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever." (v 8)

The olive tree is a versatile tree. Not as large as the oak nor the redwood, it bears a fruit that is multi-functional.  We can eat of it and we can draw oil from it.  That David calls himself a "green" olive tree contrasts with the fig tree in Christ's lesson in Matthew 21 that has leaves but bears no fruit.  David is "like a green olive tree," which suggests thriving, fruitful, and dedicated to God by being in the house of God, trusting in his steadfast love.

Our prayer should be that if we look at a tree as a symbol of faith, that we be "green trees" in the body of Christ.  Our prayer would be that we bear fruit and that our fruit be contributions to the body of Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Devotion 1.20.16

The title of my first book will be "Three Bananas," the sordid truth of which will detail my days at home while my wife worked and I tended to tasks on the domestic front.  Three bananas is the usual request for Cindy, my wife, who will eat half a banana each day for lunch at school.  So, when I'm menu planning and getting the grocery list together, she always writes down "three bananas." 

It is called sordid because it will play a hand in the narrative of this fictional piece of a husband who assumes the role of shopper and goes to the store to buy groceries, general merchandise, dairy, produce, frozen foods, and maybe an item from the deli before he goes his merry way (that, by the way, is the break down of your United grocery it for yourself).  Yet each time I go to the produce section to get "three bananas," I note the bunches of bananas are in clusters of 6 - 7 bananas, so either I break the seal and take three bananas OR I take three bananas from the small bin where others have done the same.

Such is the life in the fruit area in the produce section of the store.  Everyone touching your food before you finally buy it and take it home.  Yet, we accept the risk because fruit is by and large healthy for us.  My dilemma ends at the purchase because even though I run, I refuse to eat a banana, a food rich in potassium, which is a great anti-cramping chemical in your blood.  So the "three bananas" are all Cindy's.

Fruit dots the landscape in scripture as well.  Fruit first gets introduced to us at the fall of man when Satan inquires about the stipulations of living in Eden, the only one of which Eve answers, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" (Genesis 3:2 - 3)  Fruit, for the most part in the New Testament, is equated to the productive life of a disciple.  In Matthew 21, Christ approaches a fig tree with "nothing on it but only leaves.  And he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again.' And the fig tree withered at once." The lesson of which is fairly simple about our use if we bear no "fruit."

We struggle with this as Christians, the notion of salvation through faith, but that we will be judged by our actions as Christ asserts in Matthew 25 when he completes the narrative by saying, "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." (25:40)

What fruit do we produce?  Where is our faith life in that balance known as justified by faith, but in response to the gift of salvation, sharing the good news with others and reaching out to help those in our midst?  Pray we seize moments when we can make a difference in our daily lives.  Pray we take those opportunities as they come to us.  Pray we are fruitful disciples in all we do.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, January 18, 2016

Devotion 1.19.16

We are drawn to water.  Water is a source of life, so geographically, most cities develop along waterways, where commerce and trade occur.  Water provides for our lives as it brings plants to life that provide food, shelter, and even the air we breathe.

The Guadalupe River which flows from central Texas to the coast provides an abundance of life on its journey.  It contributes to many as it courses its way through the state in all kinds of business and commerce from agriculture, tourism,  water to drink, and a host of other economic drivers.  I have been drawn to this river since childhood and my time in the Hill Country while in college.  It has also been the source of many vacations as our family would choose the area for vacations and milestone events.

The photo at left shows what the Guadalupe can look like at its best as it courses through the area just below the Canyon Dam alone a stone river bed.  Cold, clear, and as you can see, rapid flowing make it a beautiful site. 

God uses water to describe his power or as a metaphor to faith throughout scripture.  In Numbers, Israel, God's chosen people, are described this way, "Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters." (24:6)  God destroyed the army of Egypt with water, God hid Moses in water, God's power dries up water as a description of the barren landscape of faith, and God heals with water.  In Psalm 66, we are told that God binds up water in the clouds and yet they do not burst.  Rivers, waters, and seas.  All are used frequently in scripture.

Christ assures us, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38)  Water and Word together provide that eternal life through baptism, where our faith comes from the living water.  While at the well, Christ asks a Samaritan woman for a drink, and as she draws the water from the well, Christ uses the opportunity to tell her the water he can provide. "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4)

We thank God for the actual water we have, so precious after a drought like we have had here in West Texas.  We thank God for all the life-giving qualities of our water.  We also thank him for the spiritual water that cleanses us and quenches our thirst for eternal life through his Son Jesus Christ and for the healing waters of baptism when it combines with his Word to redeem us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Devotion 1.18.16

Flower Mound, Texas is close to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and is a small town that has, like many small towns in America close to large urban areas, been swallowed up by the sprawling metroplex.  It is now a suburb of the larger metroplex, and what were once farms and ranchland are now subdivisions of moderate to large homes, businesses, and schools and all that goes with them.  Yet in the park close to my in-law's home is this old majestic oak which I pass when I run on the large sidewalks in the area.  This tree was spared by developers for a reason and became a focal point of the park where it now resides.

Oaks are impressive trees.  Not as striking as a redwood or the sequoia, the tree still has the ability to live for a long life span.  Based on the base of the tree in comparison to other oaks whose age I know, I'd guess the tree is 300-400 years old (New Braunfels, Texas has one that is approximately 1400 years old, and Albert, Texas has one that is estimated to be 800 years old).  The cell picture of the "Old Oak" on Old Oak Lane doesn't do justice to the beauty of the tree, but it does give you a view of its size in comparison to the oak planted in the background when the park was established about 15 years ago.

This tree has seen the development of the area from Native American hunter/gatherer through independence and expansion of the United States and Texas, through Civil War, Great Depressions, man on the moon, and the rapid expansion of the Dallas metroplex.  When you inspect the tree, you see it has served as a fence (barbed wire imbedded in its bark) meaning it was most likely a marker on the property.  It also has a hinge still in the bark whose meaning has been lost in time.  I believe it was also a playground for some children on the ranch (presumably) because it had, at one time, old wooden steps on the large branch you see coming out.  The true native to these lands has been a part of many stories and helped shape the history of the area as other oaks were used for homes, fuel, shade, protection, and even entertainment.  What stories might it tell?

Isaiah uses the oak in several instances as a metaphor to faith.  In Isaiah 1, he refers to oaks used in pagan sacrifices by saying, "You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen.  You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water." (1:29 - 30)  Yet in 61:3, he infers that the Messiah will make the people "oaks of righteousness." "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."

Which are we?  Oaks with faded leaves or oaks of righteousness.  The truth is we are oaks of righteousness in Christ.  If our own personal gardens were only tended by ourselves, we would be oaks with faded leaves and brittle branches, yet with Christ, we are mighty oaks.  We lift a prayer of thanks to Christ for his wondrous works.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Devotion 1.14.16

Enter Tom Landry, sainted coach of the Dallas Cowboys.  Dallas, the heated rival in terms of towns to Houston, is not to be loved, recognized, or even acknowledged by a Native Houstonian.  It is, in the terms of some Texans, the southern most port in the north, meaning we saw it as a "yankee" town.  The teams were never equal.  The Oilers struggled to win until late in their history in Houston.  Dallas, always the proud champion, had its followers for a long and glorious tenure.

It was from this that I was taught not to like Dallas.  My dad, a Minnesotan, and my mom, a central Texas woman, had little use for Dallas.  Nothing good claimed to be a Dallas Cowboy.  Having grown up in that environment, I was with them (disclaimer, my wife is from Dallas, so I overlooked that fact as much as she overlooked that I was from Houston), until one day, a few months ago, I read a brief bio on Tom Landry.  It was simple.  Landry earned his wings in World War II and flew a B-17 bomber.  He flew 30 missions and crash landed his plane during his time in World War II.  He went back to the University of Texas to finish his degree and played football, during which time, he almost gave up football to pursue engineering as he completed a Master's Degree in Engineering after his time at UT. In that moment, I went from dislike to admiration, from disdain to hero status. 

Yes, all it takes is a bio to state he flew a bomber in World War II.  It is that simple.  He won me over immediately, and Jerry Jones went from an owner with an ego who runs the Dallas Cowboys foolishly to completely despised by me.  Who fires an officer from World War II who served his country proudly?  Who fires a man who saw battle in bombers which could have taken his life as much as the enemy (statistically, in World War II, casualties in the air were as much self-inflicted accidently more often than the enemy's actions).

Yes, Tom Landry won me over that fast.  His past came forward and I became a fan of all he did that quickly.  He did, after all, leave his college football career and his education to serve his country.  Call me a fan.  Buy me a hat.  In some ways, he became a new person in my view.

So what of us in God's eyes?  Sinners all.  We can do nothing to win God over.  And yet we are clothed in Christ in his eyes.   "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life." (Romans 6:2 - 4)  In God's eyes, we are new because of his baptism, even more quickly than Tom Landry changed in my eyes.

Two prayers today:  a prayer of Thanksgiving for all who have served our country and risked their lives to maintain the freedoms we enjoy; and, we pray thanksgiving for God's plan that clothes us in Christ's righteousness.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Devotion 1.13.16

The Boston Red Sox had a catcher, Moe Berg, from 1923 - 1939.  Educated, he was a brilliant coach after his playing days.  Moe's secret?  He was a spy.  Moe Berg's brilliance was told in a book called "The Catcher Was a Spy" by Nicholas Dawidoff in 1994.  I'm certain Moe and other people who have served as spies would be complimented to learn that just last week, Sean Penn served as a spy for the Mexican military in finding the drug lord "El Chapo" by appearing as an actor interested in writing a biopic about the drug lord.

I once had the privilege to spend an hour or so talking to one of the biggest names in the cigar industry - Carlito Fuente of Fuentes Cigar.  He's probably my age, but he's called "Carlito" because his father, Carlos, is still around.  We talked about a variety of things, some dealing with cigars, but others dealing with other things in life, including a hat he wears that is prominent in the Fuente ads which pictures him and his father in the tobacco fields, presumably in Central America, as they examine the large leafs of tobacco that make up a cigar at some point (filler, binder, wrapper).

You ever think of allowing customers to visit your fields in those areas? I asked.  "Absolutely not," he answered, not rudely.  "Too many corporate spies in our business."  Spies?  I'd never thought of that, but I know they exist.  Go in and see what your competition is doing and how they are doing it.  Money is big in that business, and so secrets are protected.

What about "spies" in the church?  Paul had to deal with this in Galatia as he tried to turn the eyes of the Galatians, made up of Jews and Gentiles, to the cross and away from their long-held beliefs of the past.  What made his job difficult is Jews known as "Judaizers" - those who insist on following the Law, rules, and customs of the Jewish faith in order to be made right in the eyes of God, which included circumcision - came in to spy.  "Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in - who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery."  (2:4)  Sadly, this kind of activity exists in the church today in probably every church (not the building but the body of Christ) in the Christian faith.  Are you teaching the true Word of God?  Are you following the tenets of the faith as it was established in the past?  Based on conversations, no church escapes this - denomination and non-denomination alike.

This kind of legalism keeps us from being the "boots on the ground to deliver God's Word" (a phrase I heard in a prayer Sunday and I loved it) as we spend time and energy, as does Paul, reviewing our credentials and our activity and confirming that it is within the Word and guidelines of what we believe and teach.  Paul spends a considerable amount of time in Galatians emphasizing the Law and its role in our faith and Christ, the source of our faith and salvation outside the Law but within the promise given to Abraham.  Paul emphatically writes, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (5:1) 

Pray we use our freedom in Christ to be boots on the ground, taking his Word to the people who have not heard it or not listened.  Pray we enjoy our freedom of salvation in Christ in a way that shows people our love rather than bite and devour one another, not being consumed by one another (5:15).

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, January 11, 2016

Devotion 1.12.16

Last night we crowned a national champion in college football's second year of a true bowl playoff system.  I can imagine it now, 10 years from now, as I sit with a grandchild in my lap (at least 10 years the way things are going), talking to them about the "old days."

"So there wasn't a bowl playoff a long time ago?" he or she will ask.  "No, I will say, in the day, we had to wait for a few days to hear about the poll that ordained a #1 team in our nation.  And you won't believe this, but bowl games were played on New Year's Day, not from Dec 17 to Jan 11.  And this will floor you as well, we had to get up and walk about 8 feet to change the channel on the television."  "Wow grandpa," he or she will say, "You guys were primitive."  "Yes," I'll respond as I pat his back in his protective bubble mom and dad bought him to avoid every scrape and scratch that can come about in life, "We didn't have the things you have now.  We had to turn the audio tape over in a machine or flip the record over." 

Life changes and gives us new "things" almost daily.  A new system to pick a champion and a new way to deliver music to listen are both examples of change.  You can think of all the changes over a lifetime. 

As Christians, what is our most significant change?  Hopefully, we say that our most significant change is the newness we have in Christ.  "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life." (Romans 6:2 - 4)

We are sinners, but through our baptism, we are clothed in Christ, walking in the newness of life.  That's a significant change that can only be described as miraculous.  Praise be to God the Father who gave us His Son to cleanse us from our unrighteousness and to the Spirit who delivers our faith to us through the miracle of baptism, combining water with the Word of God.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Devotion 1.11.16

Texas, the state, is now in a position it neither likes nor understands.  Not one team is left standing in the college or professional ranks in football.  Doesn't the rest of the world understand football is ours?  We didn't invent it, but when oil made us rich, we bought it outright, first in our universities in the early 20th century (UT and A&M), and then professionally when, as Dallas fans like to think, God parted the clouds and his light shone on the city of Dallas as he sent his arch angel, Tom Landry, to coach in Dallas and deliver a champion.

So, when the bowl games didn't deliver us a team eligible to win the Dr. Pepper (a Texas company as well) Trophy in the national championship, we were mildly confused, but Dallas miraculously still had a chance and Houston was okay and had a chance.  Clearly Dallas still looks for a QB because Romo, who's yet to fill the shoes of Aikman or (bow your heads when you say it) Staubach, has a collar bone that snaps like a dried twig from a dead oak.  Houston goes through QBs like some people go through a buffet line, sampling something new each time, and consequently Kansas City devoured the Texans and Hoyer specifically, who had more completions with Kansas City that he did with Houston.  Now, here we are, citizens from Texas, standing dumbfounded like we were in 1959 when Alaska was admitted to the union and became the largest state in the nation.  Fortunately, we still say "the lower 48 and the other 2" when we refer to the United States.  Football is, by gosh, ours.  UT looks to Darrell Royal, A&M Bear Bryant, Dallas points to its existing rings, and Houston still talks of Bum Phillips and Luv Ya Blue.  We are lost because we are Texans and football is our eminent domain.

Imagine the Jews and followers of Judaism when Christ came and turned the religion on its head.  God's chosen people. Children of Abraham.  Follow the law and observe the traditions and you are made right with God.  We look to the Jews in the book of Galatians and the Gentiles they influence to see how easily people are confused when the world is turned upside down.  "I do not nullify the grace of God for if righteousness were through the law then Christ died for nothing.  O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?  It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Let me ask you only this:  Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit are you being perfected by the flesh?" (2:21 - 3:3)

We are often referred to as sheep, and in this case being a sheep has resulted in confusion.  What do we follow and whom do we believe?  Our old ways and the ways we were taught, or the truth?  As Paul says, "For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."  (5:1)  We pray we follow the truth as presented in the Word of Christ and his grace that frees us.  We pray we do not create those obstacles that confuse people and that instead, we serve as Christ's vessels.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Devotion 1.8.16

David drew "five smooth stones" from a brook in the valley before he faced Goliath (1 Samuel 17).  What are our "five smooth stones" as we face our Goliath's in life?

Christ is a "stone" we have.  "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1).  Christ is the foundation of our faith as we hear in Matthew 16, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God," Peter answers with certainty. Christ responds by saying that "...on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (v 18) 

The Word of God is also a stone that we have.  In Matthew 4, we are told that Christ is "led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil." With each of the three temptations, Christ responds with the Word of God, starting his response to each temptation, "It is written...."  Our living God has given us his living Word and his Word in written form.  As the Goliath's of life confront us, we have the Word of God as a stone. As David writes in the psalm, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119)  The written Word of God is the light we have at all times.

Prayer is another stone in our "shepherd's pouch" (1 Samuel 17).  Prayer is demonstrated by David throughout the psalm.  Christ turned to his Father in prayer on many occasions and taught us to pray. "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles to for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask.  Pray like this then...." as He gives us the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6).  The Spirit is there for us when we pray when we don't know how to put our thoughts into words.  "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words." (Romans 8)

The church is also a stone for us at all times.  Christ gave us the church, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5. "... as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." The church, founded on the article of faith in Peter's confession, "the Christ, the son of the living God," is founded on that solid foundation.

Christ, the Word, prayer, the church.  Four stones we have at our disposal when we face Goliath's.  We also have the stones of the sacraments in the church - baptism and communion - where God sends his Spirit to write our faith on our hearts through water and Word and to give forgiveness of sins as the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ.  The Spirit renews us and creates a clean heart for us.

You might think of others as well, but as Christians, Christ has given us much at our disposal when we face "Goliaths" in life, and in truth, when we become Goliaths ourselves.  Stay in the Word, focus on Christ, pray for forgiveness, strength, and renewal each day, and pray that we use the church as a light to the world bringing that same message of the Word, forgiveness, grace and strength to others.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Devotion 1.7.16

Five Smooth Stones.  "And there came from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze." (1 Samuel 17)  Goliath was massive, even by today's standards, standing over 9 feet tall and carrying armor weighing 125 pounds.

Five Smooth Stones.  "All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid.... And David said to the men who stood by him, 'What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?  For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?'" (1 Samuel)

Five Smooth Stones.  "And Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.' But David said to Saul, 'Your servant used to keep sheep for his father, and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth.  And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.'" (1 Samuel)

David is outraged as he stands with the "men" of Israel.  "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" we hear him ask.  Can you almost see him standing in the army camp looking about him as the men stand, appearing listless and in fear?  David sees God for who He is, the living God, and these armies are not defying Israel, but the living God.  He stands up and makes his case, and yet the leaders see every reason he shouldn't be the man to fight Goliath. As Malcolm Gladwell notes, Goliath may have actually been the underdog in this fight, not David.

When are we Goliath, and when are we David?  When are we arrogant with our surroundings and when are we confident in our living God?  When do we demand to be respected because of who we believe we are and when are we humble servants of Christ?  When do we dismiss someone because of our "expertise and experience," and when do we have the courage to take a stand as David does because of our love for the living God?

Pray that we know our living God and that we honor his name.  Pray that we never shrink from our responsibility as men of God.  Pray that we use the power and authority of Christ as humble servants and that Christ, our smooth stone, be our guide when we are in need in our valleys of life and our guide when we are on peaks. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Devotion 1.6.16

Five Smooth Stones.  That's a name for a ministry of some kind because it does come from scripture in a story that captures the imagination.

Five Smooth Stones.  "Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd's pouch.  His sling was in his hand and he approached the Philistine." (1 Samuel 17:40)

Five Smooth Stones.  Goliath has been in the news lately, a storm misnamed because it did what it promised.  It taunted us for a week before it hit, and when it hit, it hit with a fury that caused record snow fall and drifts in areas ill-equipped and continued as it flooded areas, all still feeling the impact.  There was no David in this storm's path.

Five Smooth Stones.  David selects five smooth stones from a brook indicating the brook was active and flowing.  The stones were small enough to effectively use in a sling from a shepherd who was an expert in the craft.  According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book on David and Goliath (by the same title), a stone thrown from a sling can reach a speed well over 150 mph. 

Five Smooth Stones.  "And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.  And the Philistine said to David, 'Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?'"  Goliath had no respect for Israel, nor the youth reluctantly chosen to represent Israel, the army of Israel, and the king who had fallen from God's favor, Saul. 

Five Smooth Stones.  Christ is our David, standing between us and sin and death.  Christ is our smooth stone.  We pray that others hear of Christ and the peace that his love and grace can provide even in insurmountable odds.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, January 4, 2016

Devotion 1.5.16

It's a blur.  Where does the time go?  Yes, and with this new year, let's pause to reflect and make anew our resolve to lose weight/become a better person/read more/eat less/drink less/become healthy/kick a bad habit/start a new healthier habit/be a better me.

Those are the New Year Clichés that were announced on December 31, 2015 at the annual New Year's Eve Cliché Festival held around the world in homes, large gatherings, downtowns across the globe.  We ring out the old and bring in the new, or should that be we wring out the old, bring in the new?

It's all just pap, a friend of mine used to say about such things as New Year's Resolutions, meaning mushy and soft and meaningless.  With my wife away on family business, I dined alone New Year's which literally meant I was the smartest person in the house since I was alone.  This person enjoyed the quiet, watched "Tombstone," and then quietly went to bed.  No noisemakers, no toasts, no countdowns, no such stuff as that, plus I was still riding high from the UH victory over Florida State.

That said, I tend to think of Ecclesiastes on times like New Year's, not because I'm a grouch (which some have titled me with that honor - curmudgeon to be exact), but because it is all vanity.  "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher , vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever." (1:2 - 3)  The notation says that "vanity" is taken from the Hebrew word meaning "mere breath."  So, it is words, talk, breath leaving my mouth.

Without Christ as the center of all I do, my labor is in vain.  "With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible," we hear in Matthew (19:26).  Without Christ as my center, my actions are in vain.  "I can do all things through him who gives me strength," Paul writes in Philippians 4:13. 

Today's devotion is written in the first person for the most part.  This is my confession.  This is my prayer.  This prayer and confession has been going on since I began doing such in earnest some time ago.  I fail on most days because I leave Christ out.  So, New Year's is another day to dedicate myself to Christ and to attempt to place him at the center of what I do.  And when I fail (often), I am comforted by Paul's words in Romans, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (8:38 - 39)

That's on-going, so New Year's really holds no bearing with what I do.  What's your confession?  What's your resolve?  Pray that we stay in Christ Jesus and that our confession remain Christ and him crucified for our salvation.

Hope Men's Ministry