Monday, February 29, 2016

Devotion 3.1.16

What is the greatest male weakness?  For Norm on "Cheers," it was beer and the opportunity to stay at the bar away from his wife Vera.  "Women," he was once heard to proclaim, "Can't live with them and can't live with them." Perhaps we deceive ourselves as men when we limit the desires of the flesh to the sensual, but it is probably the greatest male weakness.  Solomon likens wisdom to a fine woman as he speaks in Proverbs, "Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.  She is more precious than jewels and nothing you desire can compare with her." (3:13 - 15)  He turns right around then to warn of the adulteress in the same gender reference.  "My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge, for the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." (5:1 - 4)  She can tell you what you want to hear, and it sounds so good.

Yet, much like the weakness of the attention from a woman, we should remember our desires stretch beyond the adulteress to other fields.  Power and influence are relative as men seek both in their own corner of life, regardless of station or status. So we seek power and influence, each in our own way, which is a desire that can leave us as vulnerable as a woman.  You don't have to be wealthy and pursue wealth to have desires for the trappings they contain.  If love of money, desires of the flesh, and other such sins were exclusively for the wealthy, there would be no country music.

Solomon talks of hearing his father's words, "Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.  Do not forsake her, and she will keep you, love her and she will guard you." (4:4 - 5).  Yet, we each seem to need to learn on our own despite Solomon's pleas to the contrary.

Like Eve in the Garden, we dabble our toe just for a second in the warm spring of our own knowledge, understanding, and desires and turn away from God's.  We build ourselves up and really believe in another god, ourselves and our own knowledge and wisdom, and turn from God's insight and understanding.  As Eve turned away from God, we turn away from the cross, and we leave ourselves vulnerable to our own ways which can be treacherous.  The sin may not be adultery, but it is a grievous sin in God's eyes.  We have forgotten Him and turned to our own devices.

Should we find ourselves in a moment of weakness and temptation, know that as Luther teaches in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," one "little word can felled him (Satan)."  That word is Christ, God's true Word.  "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)  We seek that Word daily, in bad times and especially in good times, when we begin to believe in ourselves and rely on our own wisdom and forget the source of all that we have is Christ.

Pray for that strength that can only come through Christ to overcome the temptations we face in our daily walk.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Devotion 2.29.16

George on "Seinfeld" had a passcode for his debit card.  He won't give it out, even when it means life and death.  Kramer, looking at George during this episode, begins to narrow down the possibilities and comes perilously close to guessing the passcode correctly.  His rationale?  George's desires.

Desire.  You know the word.  You have them.  You know you do, and to deny that you do is to deny the entire essence of scripture itself.  "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8)  Kramer knows he's onto George's desires (chocolate in this case) and sees George sweat as he narrows the guesses down to what it is that makes George tick.

We have desires.  Scripture is replete with our sinful nature and the desires that we fight in story after story.  It starts in the Garden, where Adam and Eve have a simple task: Tend to the garden and worship God, yet they don't succeed.  Satan, like Kramer, finds a weak spot. "Did God really say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?'"  That Eve even responds speaks of pride.  That Satan speaks of being "like God" shows he knows the weakness and flirts with Eve's lust to be like God by saying, "You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God...."  That's all it took in a state of perfection.

During Lent, we've used the theme "Ctrl.Alt.Del." That attempt to reset our lives based on the lives we lead in our marriages, our children, our finances, and even in the sins we face, such as the potential to sin through yielding to our desires.  To whom do we turn?

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

Pray that in temptation and as our desires stand before us, we turn to God to not yield to the flesh, and that when we fail, we turn to him for that forgiveness he provides through his Son Jesus Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Friday, February 26, 2016

Devotion 2.27.16

February 27        “Let Us God to the House of the Lord” 

Why go to church? Your feelings, that’s why! “We walk by faith, and not by sight” means monitoring your feelings against the Word of God (2 Corinthians 5:7).
For example, think about fear. Overwhelming things come your way, like cancer, financial worry, marital problems, you name it. “When all things seem against us to drive us to despair, we know one gate is open; one ear will hear our prayer” (Lutheran Service Book 915, 4). In the storm you need a safe place. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Faithful living is a weekly back and forth, back and forth between emotions and the solid Word. 
The wonderful things you hear in church can evaporate pretty quickly. Come Monday when you begin to descend into the emotional swirl, the Spirit in you yearns to go back to the Word. “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). Church is practical. Church is survival. “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68).   
CTRL+ALT+DEL: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Amen. (Psalm 94:19)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Devotion 2.26.16

February 26        Count to Ten!
The widow I wrote about yesterday, the one who trusted God to take care of her when she had only enough food for one last meal… Her challenge is ours: Do I let myself be led by the promises of God or my emotions? 
Think about your computer. Maybe you’re entering financial information, maybe typing a report, maybe work emails, when the computer goes goofy. Sanctified Christian that you are, you break out singing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Far from it! Your emotions trigger a reaction that is, hmmm…. Let me say, “Less than holy.” Sooner or later you get rational. “I have to reboot.”
That illustrates our daily challenge as flesh and blood people. Sometimes our heart overrules our head to our hurt. Christian maturity means “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” Why is it that we were taught to count to ten? “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter1:14). 
CTRL+ALT+DEL: Jesus, help me abstain from desires that war against my soul. Amen. (1 Peter 2:11)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Devotion 2.25.16

February 25        “Do Not Desire Many Things and You Will Have What You Want” (Epictetus, a Roman philosopher) 

Think you can never have enough “dough?” When drought ravaged Israel, Elijah asked a poor widow for some water and bread. “Sorry,” she said. She only had enough for one last meal. Elijah pushed back with a promise: “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” Hard as it must have been, she trusted God. “And she and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord” (1 Kings 18:14-16).
Repentance means rebooting your feelings about money. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Trust God’s promises more than you trust what you see in your accounts. “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)

CTRL+ALT+DEL: Our Father who art in heaven, give us this day our daily bread. Amen.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Devotion 2.24.16

February 24        “You Cannot Serve God and Money” (Matthew 6:24) 

“Jesus, grant that balm and healing in Thy holy wounds I find, ev’ry hour that I am feeling pain of body and of mind.” How can Lenten repentance for sin also free us from painful hours of financial fretting? 

“I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Unwisely we seek safety in things we can see. “The things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:19-21).

Sin uses our desires to enslave us. Credit card debt, unsustainable life styles, financial fears, financial confidence…Those are symptoms of our bondage to sin. Jesus forgives our sin, our searching for fulfillment apart from God, but the Gospel of forgiveness does something more. It helps us reboot to a new attitude, a determined attitude to break financial bondage.  “For freedom Christ has set us free… Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

CTRL+ALT+DEL: Spirit of my Savior, help me seek first Your kingdom. Assure me that other necessary things will then be taken care of. Amen. (Matthew 6:33)  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Devotion 2.23.16

Lutefisk.  Ever heard of it?  It is fish prepared in the old ways of the Norwegians, often described as an oddity.  It is a piece of fish that is aged, dried, salted, and prepared in lye.  Yes, lye.  As a Minnesotan Lutheran once explained to me, lutefisk is "that piece of cod that surpasses all understanding."

An equal oddity is the notion of "peace" in general.  Where is that "peace of God that surpasses all understanding?" (Philippians 4:7)  There are times I wonder and ponder on that.  Perhaps we look at "peace" as the absence of conflict, which is a mistaken notion.  As was once expressed to a group of novice administrators, the superintendent said, "There are people who suffer no stress, and they are all six feet underground."  Christ speaks to this as a people when he says, "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not alarmed for this must take place, but the end is not yet.... All these are but the beginning of the birth pains." (Matthew 24:6)

According to several sites, there are currently 10 active wars taking place with several smaller regional conflicts.  The world is a place at war - religious wars, sectarian wars, territorial conflicts among many.  The world is in conflict simply because we are a sinful lot, so the "peace of God" seems elusive. The world also reflects our own inner-turmoil. How much conflict exists within us?  Does that make the peace of  God elusive for us?  Or is it?

Christ invites us to come to that "desolate" place to be with him (Mark 6).  As we learn in Aarons' blessing from God to speak to Israel, "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." (Numbers 6)  God's face shines upon us, so do we turn to him to take in that comfort he provides?  We may never feel "peace" in terms of a lack of conflict, but we know that God is there for us to turn to as we seek his guidance in those desolate places in life where Christ invites us to come to be with him.

Pray that we seek God's true peace in that relationship with him through his Son Jesus Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 2.22.16

Christ says something interesting in Mark 6 as he invites his disciples to "rest."  "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." (v 31)  A desolate place?  We are near the Sea of Galilee in this passage, so "desolate" may not be a barren desert.  Yet it is hardly a place that is inviting with the description Christ gives us.

Yet where do we go for rest?  In the invitation, Christ is asking us to join him in a barren place, which tells us that we are to be alone with Christ.  "Come away by yourselves."  Christ's era clearly had none of the technology and other distractions we have today, but Christ's invitation also clearly tells his disciples, and us, to come away by ourselves to be with him.

We know David was in the desert running from Saul for three years before he became king, and as Eugene Peterson writes, those three years clearly sharpened him to become the king of Israel.  Christ was taken by the Spirit to the desert to be tempted, alone, before he began his ministry.  Paul withdrew to the desert to learn from Christ prior to ministering to the Gentiles.

Where do you go to be with the Christ?  Where do you go to ask the Spirit for strength?  Where is that "desolate" place where you go to sharpen your faith?  Sometimes the most unlikely places are those places where Christ beckons us to come and be with him.  Pray that our hearts are open to the Spirit when the invitation comes.

Hope Men's Ministry

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Devotion 2.20.16

February 20        Flawed Parents 

Driving his daughter Elizabeth home from kindergarten, the man was pulled over for speeding. The officer came up and Elizabeth saw her dad, the confident Sunday morning preacher, turned into a stammering, weak excuse of a man. These times come, times when children see their parents are flawed. Put it theologically, these are times when children raised in Christian homes start to distinguish between God and their parents as God’s representatives. 

God gave the Ten Commandments on two tablets (Exodus 32:15). The first group of commandments tells us our duties toward God, leading with “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The second group deals with our duties toward our fellow human beings. At the head of that group God put, “Honor your father and your mother.” Martin Luther: “Next to God we give them the very highest place.” 

As good as he was in so many things, King David regretted not acting as God’s representative to Absalom. You’ll hear about that tomorrow in worship, another incentive to reboot through repentance. 

CTRL+ALT+DEL: Heavenly Father, for Jesus’ sake forgive our parenting sins. Reboot us to see these are Your children more than ours. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Devotion 2.18.16

February 18       From Regrets to Repentance via Reflection 

Welcome your regrets? Yes, here’s why. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.  One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane.  That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one comes a man and a Christian.” (“Letters and Papers from Prison”)
Metanoia is a change of mind after self-reflection. Sounds Lenten, doesn’t it? From people and problems come regrets, regrets lead to reflection, and reflection to repentance. 
CTRL+ALT+DEL: Lord, teach me to welcome regrets as an incentive to reflect and turn to You in repentance, in metanoia. Amen.

Devotion 2.19.16

February 19        “Teach the Children Well” 
This Lent we’re looking at some of life’s most common regrets and talking about how repentance can bring forgiveness, hope, and comfort in Christ. Sunday’s message will turn to parenting. 
I fondly remember evening meals when I was growing up. Every meal started with grace, and then we dug into whatever Mom had prepared. We also dug into conversation. Most of the table talk was mundane, quickly forgotten. But you know, that’s when God did – and still does – some of His best for a family. Those were times when we kids learned how Christian adults deal with life, although we didn’t realize that we were being schooled. Gathered around a meal, talking about everyday things, there was and still is opportunity to share a good word with one another from God. 
You know our Lenten goal is to share the good word from God, not to beat you up for failures and sins (your regrets are already doing that). Is time with the kids, reflective time, teaching time, a place to reboot? “They grow up so fast…”  
CTRL+ALT+DEL: Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let Thy gifts to us be blest. Amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Devotion 2.17.16

February 17        “My Peace I Give to You” (John 14:27) 
“So many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat” (Mark 6:31). How much truer in our digital age! You can “eat on the run” but is your busy-ness crowding out time for deep Lenten reflection, from moving past regret to the blessings of repentance? 
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). 
“He said to them, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” 
Our lives can get out of control! When Jesus tried to get some rest, needy crowds interrupted His plans. When the pace of life becomes too fast, how do we find rest? The short answer is not always by changing our pace, but by turning toward Jesus amidst the busy-ness. It’s not solitude that gives peace but Jesus. That’s the topic for today’s midweek worship. CTRL+ALT+DEL: “Only Jesus can impart balm to heal the wounded heart, peace that flows from sin forgiv’n… (LSB 611, 3). Please join us! 
CTRL+ALT+DEL:  “Come with Me.” O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Devotion 2.16.16

February 16        The Engine of Marriage
Ever notice it’s easier to love someone outside your home than to love spouse and children whose faults you know so well?
C.S. Lewis:  “Whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last…. But of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”  (“Mere Christianity” in “For All the Saints” I, 271f.)
CTRL+ALT+DEL: Spirit of God, help our love be the love of Christ who lives in us. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Devotion 2.15.16

February 15        “Beloved, If God So Loved Us, We Also Ought to Love One Another” (1 John 4:11) 

In the wake of Valentine’s Day… Pause on that.  “Wake” can mean after something, like after Valentine’s Day, but “wake” is also used for a visitation at a funeral home. You go to see someone who has died. Maybe your heart says, We used to be so in love those early Valentine’s Days, but love died and now I mourn at the wake of love that has passed. 

The past is past, bury it, but make today different. Repentance trusts God’s promise that your sins are forgiven, and that includes forgiveness for any part you played in the death of love. Forgiveness leads to life changes, especially in relationships. “Be filled with the Spirit,” Paul says, and that’s through Scripture, worship and prayer (Ephesians 5:18-21). The Spirit fills you with new love in relationships, all your relationships, including husbands and wives in Christ. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). After Valentine’s Day, let your regrets, your “wakes” for love be buried with Christ. Today He lives; we love. 

CTRL+ALT+DEL: Spirit of God, fill our relationships with the love of Christ.  Amen.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Devotion 2.13.16

February 13        “Be Filled with the Spirit” 
Remember the old joke? The parishioner greets the pastor at the church door and says, “Pastor, I’ve always enjoyed your sermons but today you went too far. You got personal.” Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and the message at church will be about marriage. It doesn’t get more personal than that! Whether you’re single, married, widowed, or divorced, talk about marriage brings up deep feelings, and no few regrets.  
Our theme this Lent is “CTRL+ALT+DEL: From Regret to Repentance.” Through the Bible the Holy Spirit gives the people of Christ a special insight into marriage. God intends our marriages to be beautiful pictures of how Christ loves His Church. Because of sin, however, this picture can be distorted and, tragically, sometimes even destroyed. How do we recover the picture of love God desires and has designed for our marriages? Paul answers, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  
“From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.”

CTRL+ALT+DEL: O Holy Spirit, in worship we pray that You will make the Scripture personal to me and to all. Amen.

Devotion 2.12.16

February 12        “Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus”
St. Paul’s introspection convinced him he was “a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21, 23). That’s a deeply conflicted Christian!  
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Paul said of himself that he was the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15); he said this specifically at the point where he was speaking of his service as an apostle.  There can be no genuine acknowledgement of sin that does not lead to this extremity.  If my sinfulness appear to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all.  My sin is of necessity the worst, the most grievous, the most reprehensible.”  (Life Together, p. 96)
At the root of all regret is our personal lack of righteousness. It’s impossible for us to fix this fundamental flaw. Conflicted Paul turned to Jesus. “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25).  
CTRL+ALT+DEL: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Amen. (Jeremiah 23:6)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Devotion 2.11.16

It has been said, almost too much to the point it has become cliché rather than metaphor, that life is a "journey." I once watched a documentary about a location in Pakistan (Gadani, Pakistan this link will take you to the article) in which the ships are literally run aground to be scrapped by people from the city.  People daily walk to the ships and take as much scrap as they can to bring it back and sell it for up to £2 (British pounds) per day (about $3.50 - $4.00).  Men, women, children all walk to the ships with containers in hands to gather nuts, bolts, wires, and anything else they can carry to bring back to the company that pays them for their goods gathered.

"How much time do they have to reflect on the higher things in life?" I asked myself, then a principal.  It's not like words like "reflection" or "journey" are exclusively western in concept.  But is it a concept we take for granted if we have the ability to take time to pause, think, reflect, and renew ourselves because of our status in life?  Thomas Jefferson, possibly the true American icon with regard to the "reflective" life was also a wealthy agrarian who had a considerable amount of time to learn, read, travel, discover, journal, and think in terms of science, observations in agriculture (father of the American wine movement some say), the learned life, and the rights of man.

In other words, we learn from others, when we have time.  I lived among shipbuilders, oil refinery workers, meat cutters, men who worked as long-shoremen at places like granaries and other export companies along the Port of Houston.  I was even privileged to work among them for a time.  It was hard work, dangerous work, where men were forged, hands were shaped and possibly mangled, by the work they performed.  "How much time," I once thought as I served both them and their children, "Do they have to 'reflect' on life's 'journey'?"

But maybe I'm thinking about this wrong.  Maybe you can't stop and reflect on this journey in life until you are as forged, shaped, and worn in life as these men described earlier.  And maybe we can't stop and reflect until we realize that, in fact, our spiritual life is one of being broken. Only until we admit and confess our sin can we realize the need to repent and refresh our spiritual nature in Christ.  As we read in Acts 3, "Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus." (19 - 20)

Our journey and reflecting on that occurs on that journey are not "high-minded" activity, but the simple reflections of people who know their sinful nature and turn to Christ to repent and refresh through his suffering, death and resurrection.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 2.10.16

Tonight we begin our Lenten journey under the theme "Control. Alt. Delete."  That combination on your keyboard brings up options that can include a restart.  Do we ever have a need for that in our own lives?

I'm not sure about you, but one more sighting of "puppybabymonkey" (Super Bowl Mountain Dew ad that featured a character that was part pug-head, monkey torso, baby legs in diapers) will make me wish I could go back to Saturday and petition a protest that resulted in its removal.  It's part ridiculous and part silly. It must have an audience, but I was not part of it.

Yet, in God's eyes, without Christ I'm equally disfigured.  In fact, "puppybabymonkey" might be an improvement over the disfigurement caused by my sinful nature.  Yet, as Paul writes in Romans 7, "Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Christ delivers us from our sinful nature in God's eyes.  We lift a prayer of thanks to God for his Son and the cure he provides for our sinful nature.  Our journey begins as we focus on the cross.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, February 8, 2016

Devotion 2.9.16

"Planned obsolescence."  That's a phrase I learned in the early 1980s when I was studying leadership and management formally in the Education Leadership Program at UH.  It implies that companies design products that will be great products for a period of time, but that they will eventually wear down and will no longer be useful.  Since it is part of the design, it's "planned."

As I hold my current android, the phrase comes to mind, but now I really believe that communication companies do, indeed, build things that will eventually need to be replaced.  However, the android and its support is really not even ashamed to admit it was designed to only last a couple of years.  I now get messages telling me I need to increase space in the device's memory (16 GB almost two years ago sounded like a bottomless pit).  Some apps came with the phone and don't offer deleting them, so I have to delete pictures I've taken and apps I chose to use.  That means I have to consider the frequency of actual usage as well as usefulness as I combat my device's decreasing capability as it grows obsolete.

Wednesday marks the beginning of an annual journey in which we observe God's plan to overcome our obsolescence, brought about by our sinful nature.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our Lenten journey, and during Lent we observe the path God took to exchange his Son's life and resurrection for our sin, death, and Satan's ultimate defeat.

Isaiah says it this way:  "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord - and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.  He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; and the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.  Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waste." (Ch 11)

Our fears are ultimately our own obsolescence in our lives, but God has given us everlasting life through his Son.  We no longer have anything to fear with the certainty of the resurrection.  As we begin our Lenten journey, we pray for God's guidance as we seek to strengthen our faith and truly learn the meaning of Christ's suffering and death.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Devotion 2.8.16

For those of you who are Texas Tech football fans, what you witnessed tonight at the Super Bowl was a team with a strong defense.  The clear winner in this game was what some people consider fact:  great defenses win championships.  The Denver Broncos, a team I don't follow all that closely, have a great defense, and Cam Newton, who for the most part was a dominant quarterback (like him or not) during the season, was a non-factor in this game.  Shut down.  Stopped.  Hit and hit hard. The Denver defense was, in a word, punishing.

Von Miller, a Denver linebacker, was named MVP for the Super Bowl which stated how dominating the defense was for Denver.  The thrill for me in this game was the fact that Gary Kubiak, a stroke survivor, a good guy, and former Texans coach, and his defensive coordinator Wade Phillips were rewarded for years of hard work that paid off in the form of a Super Bowl.  Kubiak is from Houston originally (my home town), played for A&M, and then played for Denver along with Elway.  Phillips is the son of Houston favorite Bum Phillips, played at UH, and has coached for many years, so I had interest in Denver winning.

The room where I watched the game with about five others was decidedly pro-Denver.  Consequently, there were moments of frustration (the Denver offense was not moving the ball as they wished) and moments of excitement (the dachshund "wiener" dog Heinz commercial) and moments of confusion (trying to explain to each other just who "Coldplay" is and what are they saying/singing?).

It's been said there are holidays in our country, but that Super Bowl Sunday is officially a day where the US connects and plans activity solely centered around a game.  The NFL has done a tremendous job of marketing this event.  It is, for all intents and purposes, our biggest national holiday unofficially.

In spite of all of this, our hope is not in the game of football or the "bigness" of the event we call the Super Bowl.  As Isaiah writes, "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble an fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (40:30 and 31)

Hope you enjoyed the game if you watched it, and that you and your gathering had great fellowship.  Hope your team won.  And, our hope is in the Lord who renews our strength.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Devotion 2.5.16

The Super Bowl is just a couple of days away.  Watching the news this morning, CBS is promoting having both the Super Bowl and the fact that Stephen Colbert will be hosting a live version of "The Late Show" immediately after the game.  It's interesting to watch Colbert who assumed the role of host of "The Late Show" after long-time host David Letterman.  I watched Letterman since college when the show came out, and as Roger Ebert once said, "Quentin Tarantino (film director of movies such as "Pulp Fiction" among others) is to Martin Scorcese (film director of many classic mob movies) what David Letterman is to Johnny Carson." That comparison means this:  David was the anti-late night host who assumed the role of a late night host by basically spoofing the late night show.

Colbert brings his own style to the game, but his style is much more conventional.  It's less in-your- face than Letterman's was, including his interaction with network execs, often a target of ridicule from Letterman.  So, watching Colbert "hawk" his show, I wondered if Letterman would have even gotten up this early and put on a suit to do a morning show promo (something he was critical of execs for not doing yet often times showing a reluctance to do just that).  Colbert seems to know the path to success is from respecting the conventional wisdom while exhibiting a flair for "edgy" humor, a fine line to walk to draw an audience while not alienating the very hand that feeds him.  So, the post-Super Bowl show should be interesting as it is live and surely will contain humor about the biggest annual television show that proceeds his.

Daniel's response to Nebuchadnezzar's command to bow and worship him is interesting for several reasons.  Yesterday (Devotion 2.4.16) we looked at Daniel standing firm (Daniel 3) after the king asks in a rage, "Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" (v 15)  Daniel responds, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it know to you, o king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (3:16 - 17)  It is interesting to note that Daniel stands firm in his faith, acknowledging that God will deliver him, either from the death in the fiery furnace, but if not, they still won't worship the king.  Yet through it all, Daniel never acts arrogant in his response.  He is respectful toward the earthly king who holds him captive, yet he is firm in his faith and respectful toward God's decision in the matter.

What does that say to us?  How do we, as Christians, speak our objections to earthly matters that we find go against our faith?  Do we speak with the respect of Daniel (and later with Christ who in truth only speaks in edgy terms to leaders of faith) or do we speak with tones of arrogance?  Daniel in his trouble and Christ in the garden both show a respect in spite of facing certain death.  Christ even commanding a disciple to lower his sword (Matthew 26). 

Pray that we stand firm in our faith, but that our light shines even in our firmness.  Pray that we use wisdom and discernment (both gifts to Daniel) when confronted with challenges to that faith and that our response is a witness to our faith as much as our answer itself.

Hope Men's Ministry

Personally, I'm going for the Kubiak and Phillips led Broncos with their Houston ties (both are from Houston and coached there, just in case you forgot), but no, I'm not pulling for them to the point of buying Bronco stuff.  This is a two-time (the championship game as well) thing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Devotion 2.4.16

Kissing the ring.  A phrase used, maybe from royalty and the papal history, when referring to being around someone with influence, fame, or power, and perhaps it is a custom to do so. Now days, it carries a different meaning.  "If you want that to happen, you need to see John Bigmoney and kiss the ring."  I'm not good at it and never have been.  I'll use proper titles if I am in the presence of someone, "Mr. Speaker, Mr. Commissioner, Senator, Chancellor" are the titles I've run into in a lifetime, and those titles follow the person even after being in office.  So, when they go to work for other companies after leaving the office, the title is still appropriate.  Beyond that, I'm not good at cajoling, glad-handing, back-slapping, and otherwise deferring to the perceived power and authority of the person.  That's not a quality to be admired.  Sometimes it is wise to know when to appear to be honored to be in the presence of someone, and to be truthful, there are some I admire for their work and their accomplishments.

That's a build-up to ask, "How would you react when in the presence of influence, fame, and power?"  We have to be truthful and admit that in our unique American DNA, we don't bow down, but still, I don't have a picture of me with Bill Murray because I wasn't proud to meet him and get a picture with him.  And yes, I've been proud to have been in the room with someone with those qualities as almost all of us would be, even if we are reluctant to admit it.

King Nebuchadnezzar, fresh off his bad dream and promoting Daniel for his God-given gift of telling him his dream as well as interpreting it, now desires to have an idol built and issuing a command that everyone, no exception, bow down to it.  To add incentive to bowing down to the idol in honor of the king, failure to do so will result in death by being "cast into a burning fiery furnace." (Daniel 3:6)  When Daniel and his three companions refused to bow down, the king became furious.  "Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" They answered, "If this be so, no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of the your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (3:17-18)  They don't kiss the ring, but they also don't use God's gifts and unwavering support to taunt the king either.  Our God is there for us, he will deliver us, but he also may not.  Yet we won't kiss the ring.

The answer could be examined at multiple levels, but simply put, Daniel and the three companions have faith in God's care for them and God's promise beyond redemption from the fiery furnace.  Note they say he will deliver us, but if he doesn't, we still won't worship you.  This aligns with Christ's prayer in the garden for deliverance from the cross, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)

We pray to God often, and our prayers include prayers from deliverance.  Yet, like Daniel and Christ, we know that God will answer the prayer, but not always in the manner we ask.  We pray we have the attitude of Daniel and ultimately Christ in our prayers and requests from God.  We pray that we have that ability to stand on our own two feet and believe that God is there for us, but acknowledge that "there for us" means "his will be done."

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Devotion 2.3.16

The workplace, for the most part, is a place where we go to perform tasks in exchange for pay.  Most of us work in places where there are other people, and as such, there are people issues that arise from time to time.  Who decided to...?  How did that happen?  Will anyone take responsibility for...?  That gives rise to the other people issues.  "Hey, don't look at me, I was taking care of my business when that happened," we might hear.  Or, this oldie but goodie, "Hey, I tried to tell people that was going to happen."  These events might be rare in some places that know and respect the mission, and in others, the environment might be defined as toxic, where they happen all too frequently.  Yet, they happen where two or more are gathered because we are human.

We forget that the idea of "vocation" isn't one of "work," but one of being God's servant where you are planted.  Vocation is that idea of your calling in life (the root to the word is the same that brings you words like "voice" or "vocal").  As Christians, we are called to be lights where we live, work, and spend our time as sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, employees, friends, neighbors and other such tags.

Daniel understands this concept of vocation.  In chapter two of Daniel, we read that Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that was bothersome.  "...his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him." (2:1)  The king's men cannot interpret the dream.  "The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh." (2:11)  The order goes out from the king:  "Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed." (2:11) Daniel, having been given the talent of interpretation from God (1:17), learns of the command and asks for an audience with the king.

Rather than take credit for his ability when he gains an audience with the king, Daniel states, "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days." (2:27 and 28)

Rather than cast blame on the king's men and their false faiths, Daniel, through prayer and faith, goes to the king and lifts the king's eyes to the living God.  Daniel remembers his calling.  We pray that as we go about our various roles in life, we remember our true vocation, that of being Christ's disciples and using our talents he has given us to his glory.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, February 1, 2016

Devotion 2.2.16

Super Bowl Week has hit.  Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos face off Sunday at 5:30 CST to crown a champion for the 2015 football season, and then a city will have the bragging rites for the next 6 - 7 months until the next season starts.  Of course, the hype makes some players household names for a period of time (staying power of the name to be determined by future success and how well the men handle fame).  Cam Newton, not a name used regularly around here, is now seen on commercials and in the news.  He's chiseled and at least this year has been from another planet on the football field, so his value has sky-rocketed because of the season and his appearance on the screen.

How would you respond to sudden fame?  What would people see in terms of the real you?  Would you be the "good old boy from Grass Roots, Iowa who remembers what it was like to work and grow up on a farm" or would you be the "I don't do interviews, hide behind the sun glasses, and look at your watch" person?  You could also be the "grew up on the mean streets of Deep Urban East Side who turned his life around and now shares his fame with the kids on those same mean streets to help them" or you could be the "redneck interview that went viral when you used every expletive to describe your views of race and ethnic groups just before you go camo hunting in Deep Woods in the Deep South."

Fame does interesting things to people.

Daniel rocketed to fame before the courts of King Nebuchadnezzar and before the king himself.  Described as being "without blemish, of good appearance..." (1:3), Daniel and the three young men of Israel captured by Babylon when it conquered Judah stood out in the king's court.  God has a purpose for Daniel and other three.  "As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams." (1:17)  God clearly had a vision of his desires for his people by giving these young men these skills as Israel, God's chosen people, were held captive.

Over the next few days, we will look at Daniel, his role in the king's court, and his use of the gifts God gave him.  As you look at your own life, ask yourself, "What do I do with the gifts God gives me and how would I use those, even if thrust into the limelight?"  Pray that we use the gifts God has given us and that those gifts impact his kingdom as we follow his command to "make disciples of all nations."

Hope Men's Ministry