Monday, June 27, 2016

Devotion 6.28.16

Baseball in Arlington has gone to a new level in the club's history.  Texas now finds itself a perennial winner, even going to the World Series twice in the past 10 years or so.  The climb to greatness in the minds of their fans starts when one George W. Bush became the managing partner for the organization.  The old ballpark was torn down after the new one was designed and constructed, the architects being the same who designed the yard in Baltimore.  Then it was as God ordained it, in their minds, as they began to turn things around and build a winning program.  So, logically, it makes sense that barely 20 years after the new park was built, the visionaries in Arlington want to tear it down and build a new park, except this time remember to air condition the place.

Yes, I too was floored when I learned of the ballpark possibly being torn down and a new one put nearby, between the current one and Cowboy Stadium.  You see, when it comes to a sport's franchises, we hardly get squeamish about spending money. 

I remember teaching Adult Bible Study one Sunday when a man I consider gifted with wisdom noted (I'm paraphrasing) that we show where our beliefs are if you see where we spend our money (Ernie to be specific for those of you from Hope).  When I walk past the football stadium at Texas Tech, used maybe 20 days out of the year for sport (high school and college football), I see a major investment which was his point. 

Where is the focus of our attention with the things we've been gifted with?  Follow your money trail and see where you spend your leisure dollar after your fixed expenditures (house, cars, insurance, utilities) and you may see a trend of what is really important to you.

How about church?  Where does it come into play in that equation?  As Christ notes, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21)

Pray for guidance when it comes to prioritizing your time, talent, and treasure.  Pray that we support our ministries at our church when it comes to money, even if we have to sacrifice to do so.  Pray we do it with a right spirit within ourselves.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Devotion 6.27.16

You ever go somewhere not really knowing what to expect and come away glad you went?  Such as? you may ask.  Think of being asked to a gathering you really didn't want to attend, yet when you got there, something inspired you, made you walk away with ideas, and made you perhaps want to take on some new activities or insert energy into existing activities.

While I voluntarily wanted to work the LWML  (Lutheran Women's Missionary League) Texas District Convention this past weekend, I didn't attend with any anticipation of anything other than sitting at our church's exhibit (Hope Lutheran Church and School's Uganda Mission) and explaining to people what that was and what we did there.  When I arrived, I learned I was going to be soliciting votes for our proposed grant for the school.  So, I went from teacher to salesperson in the flash of an eye.

While there, though, I took time to see the other exhibits, including missions.  I met the (now famous) Muslim-converted-to-Christianity (Lutheran) gentleman and his mission's exhibit.  He's a Lutheran pastor, and in speaking with him, I met a man who may have been very much like Paul.  Hostile to Christianity now speaking passionately about Christianity, almost uncompromisingly.  Across from our exhibit was another man who was from a region near the Middle East/Pakistan/India who was over a college ministry.  His college ministry doing more than reaching Lutheran students while away at college, but rather a very mission-oriented ministry serving students (in pictures at the exhibit) from other parts of the world, possibly not Lutheran.  I also talked to a pastor who came to Houston from Puerto Rico to work in a field only to find himself pastor of a church that used to be St. John's, now named in Spanish for the community just south of downtown Houston. All these men possessed a passion for their ministries, no matter how daunting the task may be.

When our pastor (Pastor Eric) returned to Lubbock from a family vacation, he came to the convention.  I said something like this to him, "The men of Hope need to get this passionate about a ministry," I said.  Not that the men of Hope aren't passionate about the ministry at Hope, but where do we focus our energy?  (For those of you not from Hope, think of your own congregations.) In the past, we have said our men's ministry is about the following:  being men of God as God desires for men in the lives of church, family, and community; being in the Word; being in fellowship; and being in service.  I was impressed with the women who came by our booth to learn of our ministry in Uganda as they decided which mission project to vote on.  They took the task seriously as I said the same thing over and over to each person who stopped for 10 hours or so on Thursday.

Clearly we have a mission in Uganda.  Do we focus our passion for taking God's Word to that?  Do we take on our own school to provide needed funds or work?  Something to think about, but when you are around people driven by the Great Commission ("Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations..."), it makes you realize that our ministry, which is effective to a degree, could be doing much more.

Pray that we find that mission that sparks our passion and our energy.  Pray that we find the time to give to that ministry in time, talent, and treasure.  Pray we seek God's will in our lives with this kind of activity. 

Finally, say thank you to anyone involved in LWML.  We received the grant, and that was because God was in the works. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Devotion 6.23.16

So, we want a youth program?  The logical question is probably, "Why?"  Because it is the next vital step in growing our church might be the response.  Another response may be, "Because my kids would like to go to a church that has a 'big' youth program and they have friends who have great youth programs at their churches."

How about this simple answer?  The church has an obligation to be a vital part of the faith development of its youth and a youth program is a commitment to that. Outside the family, the church is the most significant part of a child's faith development, and a youth program is a significant part of that.  And given the statistic of the increase of children coming from single-parent families, the passage in James becomes even more prevalent:  "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (1:27)

Despite being legalistic to a degree, the passage does emphasize the fact that the church has a role and obligation to see that children, possibly fatherless or in households that are dysfunctional, have a place to go to hear the Word of God and is a safe haven from the problems that exist in this world (sanctuary).

When I hear we want a youth program, I agree and think of those opportunities kids can have to engage and have fun, but more importantly, I think of the expansion of opportunities to develop their faith lives. 

"And these words I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise." (Deuteronomy 6)

Pray we are there for our children and others in need.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Devotion 6.22.16

Here is the trend I've noticed over a lifetime.  Mother's Day - we see moms in church being honored on their special day.  Corsages or flowers.  All dressed up.  Families coming to visit or visiting from another church they attend in town to be with mom.  Father's Day - crickets chirping in the sanctuary.

This past Sunday we used the occasion to focus on the importance of fatherhood, and moving a bit beyond the custom of this forum, a daily devotion mostly, let's not underestimate that importance.  On Sunday, we reviewed popular culture with pictures from prominent television shows decade by decade.  The point being made that you start with "Father Knows Best" in the 1950s and finish with "The Simpsons."  From a key central figure in the family to a doofus (a person who exhibits stupidity and shallowness.)  From a provider to a someone who is almost parasitic. 

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?  Art can be a reflection of the current view of the world, and in this case, as men, we need to be on guard.  The world view of a man has changed dramatically, and while I'm not saying it is a concerted effort with a playbook written by a single person, it does have the effect of being a concerted effort by various segments of society to change the view of a man with regard to his role in society, the workplace, and in the family.

We also looked at statistics from 1960 to 2013 of the dissolution of the two-parent married with children, one marriage only, from 73% in 1960 to 46% in 2013 (Pew Research).  We saw the rise of single-parent households from 9% in 1960 to 34% in 2013, and we saw the dramatic impact the absence of a father can have on a child in terms of education (secular).  Spiritually, the statistics of an absent father on faith may even be more dramatic as the evidence is strong about a child not remaining in the faith into adulthood without a father.

That said, we love our moms but don't take away from or underestimate the impact of a father not present and engaged on the family.  Our culture seeks equality, and to that end great gains have been made by women overall, but don't allow that to cloud the truth as presented in scripture.  Dad's, we are important and necessary in our children's lives and the in the lives of children who may have no fathers.  Our children deserve the role-models necessary to help the next generation achieve, and in many ways, we have a God-given role in the faith development of children, dad or no dad.

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4)

"We have earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. (Hebrews 12:9)

Take time today to review scripture if you have a concordance or by finding an app and looking at the word "fathers" to see the number of references with regard to a father's role in his children's lives.

We love our moms.  Along with God, they gave us life, but we have an extremely important role as men in the lives of children, specifically as fathers.  Pray we never lose sight of that.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Devotion 6.16.16

I received a present for Father's Day from my wife about a week ago.  (Since the kids are now young adults, almost 24, we began buying each other gifts for the days we celebrate, Mother's Day and Father's Day specifically.)  The gift was a Garmin Forerunner 225.  You might call it a wrist watch because of where it is worn, but it is far more than that.  Having run marathons and having been someone who runs since about 1985, this is a tool to track activity as you define it. 

I began with a Casio during the height of my running days.  The first Casio I had would count up to 30 laps which meant if I went for a 15-mile run, I could track each mile by hitting the lap button on the watch.  Of course that made it incumbent on me to know where the miles were to hit the button, so you tended to train on marked courses, like public parks (in Houston or just about every town except Lubbock).  Yet a marathon covers more territory than most parks (even large parks like Memorial Park in Houston).  When a former pastor and I began training for his first marathon (my third), we went and bought flags used to mark sprinkler heads and drove about our course with a can of spray paint and the flag, spraying the number on the side of the road and placing the flag there.  That provided us a method for measuring where we were in our run and hitting the lap button on the watch.  Once done with a longer run, you go back and look at the mile pace and learn where you start slowing down.

With this Garmin?  I don't touch a button, it links with satellite and charts my course as I run.  It tells me when I am at a mile.  It tells me what my heart rate is.  It tracks elevation marks, so I can see where I've gone from lowest to highest.  If I use it to its fullest, I can merge it via android or online to track calories, sleep patterns, golf, hiking miles and elevation, and an abundance of everything else.  The fact is it is hard to fudge training with this watch, unless of course I give it to the next door neighbor who plays all day (warms my heart to see that) and use his activity in place of mine while I sit and enjoy a frosty beverage and a cigar.  I just really cannot lie with this watch, and I am fascinated by tracking such stats (longest run to date has been about 2.75 miles so I really do not run like I used to).

The only thing that can keep me more honest than this watch is Christ himself, who knows my every move.  When our pastor, teaching Revelation, asked about how many people really think about the day of judgement, a few hands went up, but most of us sat with our hands down.  He wondered why?  My simple belief is we have absolutely nothing to anchor the concept to.  You could compare it to dad coming to deliver punishment for an act, but that was temporary.  Christ will judge us on our actions he knows, the things we will have no ability to argue with, and will do so swiftly and permanently. There will be no representation, no scales of justice, and I have no ability to rebut or debate the point.  Even the most guilty of earthly crimes has his day in court, so how do I have an ability to even begin to understand that day?

Fathers, this Father's Day is important for a variety of reasons, but your main purpose on this earth is to prepare your family for that day.  "These words I command you today shall be on your heart.  you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit at your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6)  Our families are our primary responsibility.  The command is not gender specific, but scripture details the role of the father in this.  When he looks at us and says, "As you did it to the least of these..." (Matthew 25), look around your house at your family and know that is ground zero and it moves out from there.

Pray we take our roles as husbands and fathers, the spiritual head of the household, with the love and seriousness as it has been given to us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, June 13, 2016

Devotion 6.14.16

Today should be the fourth day of a one-week trip my wife and I planned.  I was to meet in Waco for a group that asked me to be on their board of directors, and then we were going to the Hill Country and then New Braunfels.  Made the plans about six weeks ago.  During the course of the meeting, my wife, Cindy, sent me a text.  "Sorry to bother you but here is a text I got from Sarah's co-worker at work- 'Sarah in pain.  Throwing up.  We are taking her to the doctor.'"  Six hours later, we were back in Lubbock because the pain was caused by a kidney stone and the doctor wanted to do a laser procedure to remove it. She was in the hospital room with our pastor talking when we got back.

I find it interesting at critical times that my mind seems to have excellent clarity.  A fire at my school when I was a principal and within two minutes we had the building evacuated, fire department called, central office notified, and I was walking to each class asking them if they were okay.  Tornado at the house when the kids were little and everyone was safe and back to rebuilding quickly.  I was telling someone at church that the pattern I've seen in myself in the crises I've dealt with is this:  news, pause, action.  As I look back on the crises I've had in my life professionally and personally, that pause always had the same thought:  "Change of plans, action necessary to end the direction I was going and immediately move that energy to a new direction."  Calls, thoughts, getting information, additional help and action, and begin moving swiftly.

The age of technology has made it easier in some ways to deal with a crisis head on.  I bet I said, "Okay Google" 10 times in about 20 minutes as we began the trip back to Lubbock.  We certainly saw the age of technology in Saturday's shooting/mass killing in Orlando.  Texts, calls, Facebook posts providing critical information.  In fact, going silent was not good as parents and loved ones were calling after a series of messages to only then go to silence. 

The Roman centurion performed his own "okay Google" when his servant fell ill by turning to Christ.  His messengers, the elders and then his friends, state in certain terms that the centurion is turning to Christ because he knows he can fulfill his request.  In Luke 7, as Christ nears the house, the friends message on behalf of the centurion is simple, "Do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy.  Therefore I did not presume you to come under my roof.  But say the word and let my servant be healed."

Our prayer at critical times is for Christ to give us the clarity necessary to fulfill the necessary tasks.  Our prayer is to submit to his will and to bring the crisis to a close in a manner that fulfills his gospel.  As in Orlando, we pray for peace and the hearts of those who were involved or who lost loved ones to find peace and comfort in the words of the gospel when we undergo our own crises.  In the end, we pray that all we do glorifies Christ in good times as well as in bad times.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Devotion 6.13.16

The St. Louis Cardinals' cap that I bought in honor of my wife's father has become something of a symbol these past few weeks.  It seems as though, uncanny as it may be, that when I wear the cap, the Texas Tech Red Raider baseball team wins. Today will be the final test to see if the Red Raiders go on to the College World Series or lose and finish the season.  Should they win, then the cap will see yet another day.  Sure, you can call me superstitious, but the one game I didn't wear it they lost.  When returning from Waco last week, I left it off in the car.  A friend told me to put the cap on, which I did, and Tech had a three-run rally.  I took it back off, and they fell short by two runs.  So, the cap is viewed as mystical and possesses that power baseball people look for.

Things possess meaning, for better or worse, and we assign meaning to those things.  They can be clothing, music, words on the written page, art, and a host of other items that are symbolic and begin to possess "meaning."  Baseball, as a whole, represents eternal youth to me.  It represents possibilities.  A new season begins, and each team has hope and renewal in the new year.  As the season ensues, suffering, loss, and victory are part of following a team.  Not all teams are going to win, so we take comfort in various aspects of a season.  When the team achieves, so to the fan.  The game has renewed us at that point. Renewal, then, exists along a spectrum in baseball in terms of the season, a particular player, the hope we have, the victory, and the potential championship.

So, too, the Word of God.  We go to the Word for our hope.  We go to the Word for our comfort.  We go to the Word for our life to see along the spectrum of life where we fall and where we may go for renewal.  Our sin is revealed as we see God's Word work in our lives.  Our failures as we see those who have gone before us in scripture fail miserably as well.  And yet paradoxically our renewal is in the same pages.  Isaiah says, "Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (40:30-31)

Peter says it this way, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68)
We ask God to send his Spirit to renew us through his Word, the sacraments, through the hearing of his Word and in prayer.  We pray this Word strengthen, renew, and lift us to continue to bring that same Word to a world that needs to hear it.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Devotion 6.9.16

Shiner.  I'm not talking about that special little town in Central Texas.  I'm talking about a real black eye.  I'm talking about the kind you find a steak to put on to heal.  A friend of mine has been posting pictures on Facebook of one he received the other night while playing softball.  Last night, my wife and I went out to grab a bite, and he was there wearing his sunglasses.  He came to our table, and when he took them off, there were audible gasps.  It is a real doozy, as they used to say.

Such are the scars of men who participate in sport.  His was softball with his team (the church's men's team in fact - the Hope Warriors) who have returned to the field of battle.  We cannot be critical of the team, who has yet to find victory, because we are not the men in the arena (well, some of you readers may be).  Yet the credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood (and shiners); who errs, and comes up short again (actually, it was an error, the glove did not meet the bounce from the throw from the outfield and bounced off his left eye) because there is no error without effort and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Theodore Roosevelt eloquently articulated that in the early 1900s about life in a republic, but today we honor the Hope Warriors, who have yet to taste victory, but they are out there, late at night.  Their only trophy may be the sweat (and apparently blood, dust, and shiners) received by playing in the field late at night, swatting the skeeters, and right now, not the softball.  So a reminder for our team and for us all, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable, but we an imperishable." (1 Corinthians 9)

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Devotion 6.8.16

On my morning jog (Monday), I was struck by something that entered my mind as I cycled thoughts through my mind.  It occurred to me that red is a prominent color in my favorite sports teams.  My old high school, who discovered winning after I left (North Shore Mustangs - last year's 6A champs in football) colors?  Red and white.  University of Houston, where I obtained a Master's degree?  Red and white (number 8 in football last year in fact at the end of the bowl season).  Texas Tech, where I obtained post-graduate hours to get a superintendent's certificate?  Red and black, and they win more than they lose since I've been here and had a few years of competition.

The only diversion from this theme of red was my alma mater of record for my Bachelor's, Texas Lutheran, whose colors were black and gold and which was a place where athletes go for one last hurrah before hanging up the cleats.  They recently built their own stadium after a lifetime of playing at the local high school stadium which, given the amount of money that gets funneled into athletics, was refreshing to see at least one school put it in perspective.  Yet, in truth, it is hard to get fired up sitting in the wooden bleachers of a rickety old stadium built on a shoestring budget to see a college team play.  Consequently, red was a dominant color in my schools and of the schools who produced winning teams.

The thought shifted however when I thought about this:  Red is the color of the glue of our faith that binds us one and all.  The color of red being that of Christ's blood.  Christ put his blood on display for us while praying in the garden before his arrest.  He put his blood on display while receiving a terrible and ferocious beating which would kill any man.  He put his blood on display for us as he received his "crown" in mockery.  And he put his blood on display for us while on the cross.

In 1 Peter, we read, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers,  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot." (1:18-19)

More important than any sports franchise, Christ binds us as brothers through his blood, and each Sunday we celebrate communion, we have the presence of his blood in the wine. 

Pray we remember the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness, of our sins and that we never allow petty items to come between that blood that binds us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Devotion 6.6.16

Game changers.  Those things that completely and radically change the outcome or the direction.  We were informed late Friday that Muhammed Ali had passed away.  Ali was certainly a game changer, regardless of where you fell on the spectrum of Ali.  He had staunch fans and people who didn't care for him (to put it mildly), yet he was a figure you knew.  His boxing matches were unparalleled in the sport of boxing.  His life was not without controversy.  He moved from Clay to Ali in a decision to become a Muslim, protesting a war he did not agree with.  For that, he sat out during the prime of his career because he refused the draft.  He was also one of the first athletes to openly tout his skills, using his verbal skills to speak of himself in the first person and poetically:  "I am Muhammed Ali, don't tread on me."  His interviews with Howard Cosell, himself a man of controversy, were the stuff of legend.

I was struck in a rebroadcast of an interview done in the 1960s of something that Ali said.  "Cassius Clay was my slave name.  Muhammed Ali is my free name," as he went on to speak of his new freedom as a proclamation of his new found faith.  As followers of Christ, we should certainly know that is true because of the true nature of Christ, son of God and man, who came to earth to suffer, die, and then rise to overcome sin, Satan and death.  We are baptized into Christ's name, leaving our "slave name" behind and becoming new creations. 

Paul says it this way in Romans: "Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.  For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." (6:17-19)

Christ is our true freedom.  We pray we take this gospel message to those who seek to put the old Adam behind them.  We pray that the Spirit work through us to help transform the lives of people as they hear and respond to the gospel message.  We pray that we seek opportunities to deliver this message to people. 

Hope Men's Ministry