Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Devotion 3.31.16

My name points to my being. It conveys who I am, more so than documentation or a number.  My mother was deprived of knowing much about her name because she was orphaned at an early age, not knowing her father (killed in an oil field explosion close to her birth) nor her mother (taken from her by leukemia at the age of 6).  That left  her knowing little about her name.  Yet, she would cling to that name.  It held importance to her.  Unfortunately, a search in an ancestry website left me with little to tell her as I began to search a few years ago.

God's name is very important, and to examine God's name, we go to the Old Testament.  In Exodus, Moses is met by God in the burning bush.  Moses asks, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name? Then what shall I ask them?'"  God's reply is significant, "I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites:  I AM has sent me to you." (Exodus 3:13 - 15)  This is significant for a simple reason:  God exists and stating "I AM" speaks to his being.

God guards his name jealousy.  He commands us to not misuse his name in the second commandment.  He instructs Moses in Exodus 20 has he gives him the 10 Commandments:  "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God."  We are to take his name seriously (Jews today still do not spell out God, rather, using "G-d" in writings.).  Yet we misuse his name and ours as well.  Our name is abused by our sins - our actions, our thoughts, our words and our inaction.  The non-response.

Our name is our claim to our own existence, and yet that existence is tarnished by sin in our lives.  God's name is untarnished, yet he wants us to use it with respect and reverence which, of course, we don't.  To redeem us from this mess, he sent his Son, and Mary and Joseph were instructed by an angel:  "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20-21)

The name Jesus cleanses our names in God's eyes and restores our name, which God knew in advance.  We pray a prayer of thanksgiving for the name Jesus and what that name means to us and does for us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Devotion 3.30.16

We spend a lifetime searching for significance.  We find our significance in our daily lives mostly by status, what we have accomplished, and the influence, power, and wealth that may accompany that.  We may find our significance in our skills and our talents, yet we seem to never cease that desire to build our resume' or our vita (or our references).  It is almost a hunger.

Yet for Mary Magdalene, her significance rested in the Lord speaking her name, "Mary," to which she replied, Rabboni! (Teacher!)" (John 20:16)

The significance of our name should not be overstated, but it is important.  As a major tenet of our faith, we use the name in conjunction with our baptism as infants.  "How is this child to be named?" the pastor asks.  The name is given, and then in the act of baptizing, the pastor will say, "John Matthew Luke, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," as he takes water from the font and pours it on the forehead.  The Holy Spirit writes the faith of John Matthew Luke on his heart at that moment through the power of the Word combined with water.  Faith, a gift from God and not an act of man.

We are presented publicly then and our name is used simultaneously with the receiving of faith.  Christ calls us into his kingdom through baptism.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this, "Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life (his earthly life), and it is grace because it gives a a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son." (Costly Grace, Dietrich Bonhoeffer).  Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister, returned to war ravaged Germany before the war was over to minister to the people.  He was imprisoned, and he was executed just shy of the liberation of the prison.

Our significance is in Christ truthfully.  Christ calls us by name just as he called Mary Magdalene. She recognized him when she heard her name.  Christ calls us, "For we are his handiwork, created in advance in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)  Our name, in Christ, is our significance.  Our grace "calls us to follow Jesus Christ, and it is a costly grace."  When Christ calls our name, how do we respond?

Pray we hear Christ's call in our lives and respond, "Teacher!" and follow Him.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, March 28, 2016

Devotion 3.29.16

It is said that in a crowded room with noise, if someone says your name in a normal tone, you will probably hear it.  I've experienced that phenomenon personally, sometimes when the name was mine, and sometimes when it was someone else with the same first name.  A crowded conference exhibit hall with a booth for the architectural firm, hundreds of vendors and educators mingling, and I hear, "David...."  I turn and realize they are talking to another David.  So, our name gets our attention.

So, in the silence near the tomb, Mary Magdalene is standing at the empty tomb crying.  Christ comes to her, his first appearance, and asks "Woman, why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?" (John 20:15).  Mary answers him as a man, not the risen Christ, "If you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." (v 15)  Then Christ simply says, "Mary." (v 16) and immediately Mary realizes it's Christ, turning and saying, "Rabboni!" (Teacher - v 16). 

Mary Magdalene is the first to see our risen Lord, and he reveals himself to her by using her name.  Christ uses her name, as he uses ours.  Christ assured the 12 going into the mission field and reassures us when he says, "The very hairs on your head are all numbered, so do not be afraid;  you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:30)  How do we respond when Christ calls us by name?  Pray that we, like Mary, respond to the call and acknowledge him.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Devotion 3.28.16

I write this with the words of my father in my mind that finances are private, but the illustration between this story and Easter is too good to pass up.  I had an "aha" moment this Easter made possible by my wife's father, commonly called "Dad" by all of us.  As some of you may remember, Dad passed away before Christmas.  It was revealed to us through this death that he had built quite a financial portfolio, and we marveled at the amount he saved and invested over his lifetime of 87 years.  Classic Depression Era generation in fact, saving every penny and treating every penny with respect.

As Easter drew closer, the legal system and financial system began to distribute the inheritance to my wife and her twin sister.  The money was distributed, and my wife and I began to wipe away debt in the forms of the house and the cars (as is advised by most financial advisors - eliminate non-recurring debt).  Like that, our indebtedness gone with the promise of more to invest ourselves.  What makes the entire situation feel strange is we did nothing to earn this once in a lifetime opportunity.  My wife's dad's death made it possible.  His loss is not replaced by the financial sum at all, and the financial gain is something we'd gladly return to have him among us.   

Yet God sent Christ to be with us, and because of the cumulative effect of sin - generations past, present, and future, Christ was sacrificed to erase our debt of sin.  God experienced loss as his Son died for our sin.  We have been given grace, and not through one action of our own.  Nothing we did obtained this God-given grace for us.

Dad's loss was felt, and our brief gain was by nothing we did.  This tangible lesson made Easter all the more real for us.  What did I do to deserve what Dad left us?  Not a thing.  In fact, I'm indebted to him already for so many things.  God's incomparable sacrifice is beyond words or description, and for nothing, I receive grace and forgiveness through his Son's suffering, death, and resurrection.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8 and 9)

Hope Men's Ministry

Easter Sunday Devotion 3.27.16

"'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going to see you before you go to Galilee; there you will see him.'" (Matthew 28) So the angel spoke to the two women who came to the tomb. 

The angel, speaking directly to the women, speaks to us as well.  "Do not be afraid, for I know the Jesus that you (we) seek who was crucified.  He is not here.  He has risen."  We seek Christ.  We know Christ.  He has risen, and this gives us eternal life.  Do not be afraid.

Christ has created a clean heart within us.  God will not cast us away from his presence.  Because of Christ, we have been restored, and God's Holy Spirit comes to us to give us faith an strengthen and renew our faith.

He is risen!  He is risen indeed, hallelujah!

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Friday Devotion 3.25.16

Why am I going through this?  Why is God putting me through this?  I sometimes feel as though God has turned his back on me. 

These are thoughts we have all had as we go through the depths of issues or problems confronting us.  These trials and tests can be very difficult.  Maybe the loss of a job unexpectedly.  Maybe the loss of a loved one.  All very difficult.

After trumped up charges, a bogus "trial," a beating that would take any man's life, Christ is crucified.  As Christ is on the cross, Matthew records that he  "cried out in a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'"  (Matthew 27) Christ has the clarity of mind while on the cross to quote David from Psalm 22 which David starts by saying, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" 

David's lament is given in a state of isolation and loneliness as he faces opposition.  Christ's lament is as he faces a certain death while hanging on a cross, and a death caused by nothing he did.  Christ's lament is because of us - our sins, our evil, our inability to follow God.  Christ sacrifices himself and experiences this vast expanse between him and his Father (our Father) because of us.

This sacrifice Christ makes is on our behalf and will be the answer to David's prayer in the psalm when he asks, "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)

Hope Men's Ministry

Maundy Thursday Devotion 3.24.16

The new normal.  That's a phrase that is used now (and maybe for some time) to describe what used to be and how it is now.  Leave earlier to get to the airport because the wait is longer now which is "the new normal."  Better get a tag for your car because toll roads are now "the new normal" for new roads meant to relieve traffic.

Holy Week is that time where the world is turned upside down.  Whatever we once believed is no longer the way to view things.  Christ has dedicated his entire ministry (and soon life) to redefining what was presumed to be conventional wisdom. 

Passover is celebrated on Thursday, but Christ, the final sacrificial lamb, offers himself which gives the Passover meal an entirely new meaning.  As Christ observes Passover with his disciples on Thursday, he takes bread and says, "Take, this is my body."  He then takes the saying, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many"  (Mark 14). Today, the celebration of communion provides Christ's body and blood present in the bread and wine give us forgiveness and renewal in the Holy Spirit.

Our broken lives made whole by Christ's sacrificial love for us.  Because of Christ, David's prayer is answered, "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" (Psalm 51).

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Devotion 3.23.16

Ever get caught in an disagreement or argument that really started as a conversation?  What got you caught into a heated discussion and eventually an argument?  Was it a challenge to you, your authority (perceived or real), your influence, or your pride?  "Everyone knows your son was the starting pitcher because you are the head coach."  I've seen that line dangled out there, and I saw the head coach "take the bait."

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the religious leaders are desperate to catch Christ in his own words, so they come to him with a simple question, "By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you the authority to do them?"  Christ sees this plainly and says, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?  Answer me." (Mark 12)  Mark clearly notes that they weighed their answer by which answer would cause the most problems. "If we say from heaven, then he'll say why didn't you believe him (John) and if we say man, then the people will be angry with us because they believed John to be a prophet."  (12:31 - 32)  After their deliberation, they answered, "We do not know."  (12:33)

Here is what we know.  We sin.  We challenge, even the authority of God at times when we know better than he does.  We also know Christ, with clarity of mind not to get caught in the challenge set by the leaders, will still suffer and die for our pride, our sins. 

Pray we focus on our heart and the sins and condition of our heart.  Pray as David did in his psalm, "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." (Psalm 51)

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Devotion 3.22.16

The highs and lows of life unfold in our lifetime in different ways.  Joy and celebration in the mountaintop experiences and depression, anxiety, fear in the valleys of life.  How do we respond to these events as they present themselves to us?  How does our response speak to those around us who either witness it or hear of it (or in this day and age watch it captured digitally)?

Christ's week, Holy Week, see the highs and lows of life caught in one week.  Within a seven day period he goes from being treated as royalty (Palm Sunday) as the people of Israel seeks their earthly king, to his arrest, "trial," beating, crucifixion, and finally his resurrection. 

On Monday, we observe an interesting occurrence:  that of Christ being demonstrably angry in the temple.  What makes it interesting is Christ is angry at the religious leaders of that day for allowing trade and commerce into the temple which, in his words, should be a "house of prayer" rather than a "den of thieves."  He overturns the tables of the money changers and those who sold pigeons for sacrifice to people who did not have the ability to bring a sacrificial offering to the temple (Matthew 21:12 - 13).

Mark and Luke add to this account that the religious leaders of the day (the chief priests and the scribes) would "seek a way to destroy him because they feared him." (Mark 11)

Christ's righteous anger used to "cleanse" the unrighteousness that existed, namely the unrighteousness of those who supposedly believe.  How does that speak to the condition of our own hearts?  Our own motives and desires?

When confronted with his the sins of his own heart, David speaks these words, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51)  That is our prayer as we seek to understand our own hearts and actions that come from the heart.

Hope Men's Ministry

Friday, March 11, 2016

Devotion 3.12.16

March 12            “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart”  
Kids can sing that happily on Sunday, but how deep is joy in your adult life during the week?
Jesus talks about joy in the parable of the sower. “The sower sows the word. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:10, 14, 16-17). 
When trouble comes to you as a follower of Jesus, how deep are your roots in His word? Joy will be the topic tomorrow in church. “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4-5). Always? Long ago a man named Horatio Spafford suffered great loss but he didn’t get stuck in his regrets. Here’s his prayer; make it yours as you reboot to joy.  
CTRL+ALT+DEL: “He lives—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” (Lutheran Service Book 763, 3).

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Devotion 3.10.16

March 10            “He Went Out, Not Knowing Where He Was Going” (Hebrews 11:8) 
Following Jesus or trying to lead Him where you want to go? 
“Part of our human condition is that we crave security, because security gives us the illusion of control. When we feel secure, then we are confident in our ability to ‘handle things,’ whatever that might mean. Predictability gives us a sense of security. Money often gives a sense of security. Routine gives us a sense of security” (James Tino, “Meeting Ananias, Tri-Pillar, 50) 
A rich young man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and come, follow me.” “When he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:22). 
Lent shatters the illusion that we can find security in anything other than Jesus. Your security doesn’t sit still, and won’t leave you in the status quo. “He is going before you” (Matthew 28:7). “A life of faith…feels insecure. It begins with an openness to the Lord’s leading in your life, whenever and however that may come, and it ends in places that we would never expect” (Tino). 
CTRL+ALT+DEL: Lord, we don’t know what the future holds but we know that You hold the future. Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Devotion 3.9.16

March 9               “Remember” 
As I look back at my life, 70 next year, what most shaped me spiritually was memory work. In parochial grade school and Sunday School we were required to memorize and recite Bible passages, the catechism, and hymns. Years later the study of theology taught me that memory work gave God’s Spirit an opportunity to drive His Word down into my heart. 
Here’s one we had to learn, Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’”
That’s depressing, like old people saying, “Enjoy it while your young; life gets worse.” It’s also realistic. For most of us life gets harder as we get older. When “the days of trouble come,” we need to take comfort in what we’ve learned about Jesus. 
There’s a little red book I keep on my Seminary desk. It was given to me at my confirmation, that church ritual when young people publicly reaffirm the faith given in Baptism. The title of the book is “Remember.” Some memories should get better with age!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Devotion 3.11.16

March 11            “Life Narrows Down” 
I pray these little devotions in some small way lead you to yearn for Jesus as never before. Two of the most influential sentences in my life were written by Rev. Arnold Kuntz. “Life narrows down,” he begins.  Isn’t that the truth? “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). Life brings challenges, health problems, financial loss, the passing of loved ones, and ultimately the approach of your own death. “Life narrows down.” A retired seminary professor, a man who knows Jesus, said at the visitation for his wife, “It gets personal.” 
“We wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Lent is about rebooting, about reorienting your thoughts through repentance to Jesus. “One thing is necessary,” Jesus says (Luke 10:42). Dr. Kuntz: “Life narrows down, and crisis comes. Suddenly only one thing matters, and there, in the narrow place, stands Jesus” (Devotions for the Chronologically Gifted, 46) 
CTRL+ALT+DEL: Jesus, midway through Lent, I’m tempted to slack off. Lead me to focus on You as I’ve never done before. Amen.

Devotion 3.8.16

March 8               Talk with Your Hands 

You’ve seen people who talk with their hands, literally. The Deaf use sign language to communicate what’s on their mind and heart. Most people use their hands, again literally, to gesture, to emphasize the words they’re speaking.  

Faith is like a hand, not literally but figuratively, a “hand” that reaches out to hold onto Jesus Christ. “The merit of Christ’s suffering is not communicated to us, unless we grasp it by faith” (Lutheran Confessions, Apology IV, 390). This “hand” of faith “grasps” all the promises Jesus makes to us. Talk with your “hands”; let your grasp on the promises show in all you do! “We cannot but speak of what we have heard and seen” (Acts 4:20). 

Martin Luther: “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith.  Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace” (Preface to the Romans).
CTRL+ALT+DEL: “Lord, give us such a faith as this!” Amen.

Devotion 3.7.16

March 7               Report to John What You Hear and See”  

John the Baptist got on board early. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). As time passed, John began to wonder. “He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11:2-3). 

Faith has two aspects. One is internal, subjective, feelings. Most Americans talk about faith that way. Reboot! More basic in the Bible, faith is directed to something outside us, something objective. “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5). Outside more than in us. Objective more than subjective. Regrets must turn from self to Jesus in repentance, otherwise true Easter will never come. 

“Tenacity is the supreme effort of a man refusing to believe that his hero is going to be conquered” (Oswald Chambers). 


Friday, March 4, 2016

Devotion 3.5.16

March 5               “When the Righteous Cry for Help, the Lord Hears” (Psalm 34:17) 
A man had a very ill son. Today we might call it epilepsy. “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid…. If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 8:17-18, 22) 
Jesus answers with a bit of gentle sarcasm, “‘If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 8:23-24) 
That father spoke for me, and I assume for you as well. We believe, but oh! Doubts come. “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). Another opportunity for a Lenten reboot! Tomorrow’s message in church will be about the tussle of faith and doubt.
And Jesus said, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again” (Mark 8:25). “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). 
CTRL+ALT+DEL: “O God, forsake me not!” (Lutheran Service Book 731, 1)

Devotion 3.4.16

March 4              “Bane and Blessing, Pain and Pleasure by the Cross Are Sanctified”

(Lutheran Service Book 427, 4) 

In the 1800’s C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the LCMS, taught future pastors, “In your sermons you like to treat subjects like these: “The blessed state of a Christian,” and the like.  Well, do not forget that the blessedness of Christians does not consist in pleasant feelings, but in their assurance that in spite of the bitterest feelings imaginable they are accepted with God and in their dying hour will be received into heaven.  That is indeed great blessedness.”   
CTRL: Control your emotions. ALT: Get alternate priorities from the Word of God. DEL: Let the Spirit delete regret through repentance.  
Walther again: “It is proper that in your sermons you depict the happy moments which occasionally come to Christians when they are given a foretaste of their future bliss. If the description of such moments of bliss is given in a proper manner, it produces neither anguish and grief nor doubt regarding one’s being in the faith, but a heartfelt longing for an experience such as the preacher is describing” (Law and Gospel, 312) 
CTRL+ALT+DEL: Lord, through faith in Jesus let me rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. Amen. (1 Peter 1:8)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Devotion 3.3.16

March   3             “Salvation Is Nearer to Us Now Than when We First Believed” (Romans 13:11). 

Dr. Thomas Troeger of Yale Divinity School tells about waking up in the intensive care unit after surgery. Groggy, not fully awake, he heard a loud pounding. Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam. “Oh, no! Hospital construction. That’s the last thing I need. Dear God, make that pounding stop!” Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam. Sometimes we don’t get what we ask for. Becoming more fully awake, he remembered what the surgeon had said. “We’re going to put an artificial valve into your heart. At first it will make a loud pounding noise, but it eventually it will quiet down.” Dear God, cancel that last prayer! 

Then Dr. Troeger brought home the point of his story. Every beat of your heart is a gift. Every beat is a grace from God. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). What are your priorities in this season of your life? You’re only one heartbeat away from eternity.  

CTRL+ALT+DEL: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Amen. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Devotion 3.2.16

March 2               Your Elevator Speech 

What are your priorities as a follower of Jesus in this season of your life? If you’re talking with someone on an elevator, can you tell them in a few sentences the specifics of why and how you’re following Jesus?  What’s your “elevator speech,” your mission statement in this season of your heavenward way?  

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). 

“Know thyself” was an ancient Greek proverb. How are the two great commands being prioritized in the present season of your life? Time to reboot your purpose?  

CTRL+ALT+DEL: Spirit of God, teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom. Amen. (Psalm 90:12)