Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Devotion 9.2.16

The rain is a blessing of epic proportions.  As I had read about the frontier in my college days and its shaping of the nation, you learned that weather patterns west of the Mississippi can be harsh.  The Great Plains, if you find maps from the 1800s, was also called the Great American Desert, because its terrain was filled with rocks and grasses and dry lands, yet because of the steel plow, the rocks were removed and the aquifers, coupled with rain, created the Heartland.  We forget, however, that the area is harsh and prone to varying degrees of heat, cold, wind, and drought.

The great Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb wrote about settling West Texas and was flabbergasted that we would waste its resources to settle in the area because of the lack of water (and attacks from Indians and Mexicans on the plains of West Texas and the Rio Grand area).  So, when I moved here to validate the harshness of the land, I was amazed one day when I heard a couple of "West Texans" complain about the rain.  "I'm so sick of it," one exclaimed, after a prolonged bout with rain that month.  "I learned in Houston to never curse away the rain," I responded, "Because even in a tropical climate, if it stops, it stops."

After about five to seven years of severe drought, it is a welcomed sight to eyes weary of a land that is so unforgiving that it doesn't even supply a basic nutrient to life of all kinds for years, drying up reservoirs, taking water out of aquifers, and literally driving the life away that depends on it. 

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." So writes Paul in Philippians 4:19.  Christ gives us what we need (different from want):  truth, forgiveness, grace, mercy, love.  He also answers prayer, sometimes yes and sometimes no.  We know that we live in a climate that can be harsh, so we are thankful at all times when God gives us the gift of rain and other things necessary for our lives.  We pray a prayer of thanks for God giving us this day, our daily bread.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 9.1.16

Today marks that point in time, called the final month of baseball, in which anything can happen.  Teams solidly in first place find themselves by mid-month praying for a break, and teams who've lagged behind most of the season find that gasp, deep from within, to put together a streak and race toward a playoff berth.  All the smack talk during the season was just that, talk, because now it all begins to really mean something.

The three teams I follow, the Cards, the Astros, and the Rangers, now see the finish line.  Two have clear playoff potential, and the Astros have put together a winning run the past 15 games.  Yet they lag behind a chance for a Wild Card spot by a couple of games behind Baltimore and Boston, and St. Louis is just one loss away from tossing their bid for a Wild Card away.  Texas looks solid, barring a ballpark collapse of epic proportions (like a ballpark collapse), but they've shown that ability to have that collapse during the playoffs (including a World Series).

Baseball is that sport of attrition.  You may field talent, but the season is long.  Half of the starting pitching could sit the bench before year's end due to injury.  Pitchers can also lose form and get into a funk that causes them to lose their "mojo."  That can happen to players as well, possibly the most famous was Chuck Knoblauch, formerly of the Twins and then the Yankees, who had the physical skills, but his mind lost its ability to believe he could play the game.  Baseball, as Yogi once famously said, is 90% mental and the other half is physical.  So, after five months, baseball now enters its final stretch, with the mental part bearing down as the wear and tear of a full season begins to take its toll. 

Being a follower of Christ is not always easy either.  It's a faith of attrition with our physical and mental devotion to Christ being tested over a lifetime.  Prayer life strong some days, and perfectly weak during some stretches.  In the Word at times, and not in the Word at times.  Yielding to the ways of this world and putting other priorities in front of Christ, like baseball, and then not yielding and having the strength through the Spirit to remain faithful another day because of Christ's grace.

Paul acknowledges as much in his passage in Romans 5:  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Paul knew that endurance was necessary in this race.  Pray that Christ be with us in the good and the bad and that He send his Spirit to strengthen us when we are weak and feeble and to humble us when we are strong so as not to boast.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Devotion 8.31.16

We are in our second week of school starting.  The new school year is an exciting time.  New teachers starting a new profession and returning teachers starting a new school year.  The school across the street shows signs of life at least a month before school starts as teachers come up to start work, decorating the room and getting materials ready for the new school year.

New years.  One begins in January for the calendar.  One begins in late August/early September for school.  New beginnings.  Children starting school for the first time and many returning for their next year of school at all levels, from kindergarten to college.

We pray for our students and teachers in all schools public and private.  We pray for our students who will begin a new year at church in Sunday school and confirmation.  We pray that they learn the truths of life and that the skills they learn help them as they grow in life.  We pray these skills help them learn how to be better disciples as they learn more about the Word of God and its application in our lives.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 8.30.16

With events of recent months, it is tempting to say the world is worse now than it ever has been, but the problems we face today are not new.  The world has literally been going to hell since the fall of man, and it is difficult to find new issues that are not talked about in scripture.

Certainly there are new means to convey our sinfulness.  The Internet, for example, has blessed us and cursed us all at the same time.  Today's political environment is blessed with more information to decide and create open government, and it is also cursed with blogs, tweets, websites, and streaming videos that do more to create confusion and reinforce bad ideas than clarify.  Yet we know that sin has corrupted man since the fall of man, and Paul wrote about sins of the flesh (graphically as well in Romans 1).

Thomas, the disciple who is best known for doubting, asks a great clarifying question as he speaks with Christ.  "'Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life.'" (John 14: 5 & 6)

It is that simple.  Turbulent times?  Follow Christ.  Personal conflict?  Seek Christ.  Not knowing where to turn?  Turn to Christ.  We pray at all times to follow Christ, his will and his way.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Devotion 8.25.16

A movie that came out this summer that was purely interesting was titled "The Infiltrator."  Bryan Cranston played a US Customs agent who works (infiltrates) his way into the Pablo Escobar hierarchy in order to gain evidence of what was largely assumed.  Authorities knew, but had no proof of Escobar's role in murder, drug trade, political payoff and influence buying, and an assortment of kidnapping and other lesser crimes.  Cranston's character weaves his way deeper into the organization in some perilous situations that were tense to say the least. 

Such is the life of a spy as we see it.  Infiltrate, convince the actors in the organization you are genuine, and dive into the role to the point of no return doing what it takes to get the information you need. 

The dramatic twists of spies finds its way into scripture on several occasions, but an interesting turn takes place in Luke as the chief priests and scribes seek ways to "lay hands on him" (find evidence against him).  In Luke 20, Luke notes that "they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor." (v 20)  Interesting that Luke notes "pretended to be sincere."  The upcoming moment in this passage is the question of paying taxes to Caesar (v 21 - 22).

In our own sinful lives as members of the body of Christ, when am I a believer serving Christ in humility, and when am I a spy appearing to be sincere but having another agenda entirely?  The answer is that regardless of our intent, it is Christ's church, and his word is victorious regardless of our motives.  In the account in Luke, he makes this apparent in a moment of brilliance as he asks them to give him a coin (showed they carried money), asks whose likeness is on the coin, and then answers to give to Caesar what is his and give to God what is God's (v 24 - 26).

Pray that we serve our Lord in humility and in sincerity, and pray a prayer of thanksgiving that regardless of our motives, God's will is done.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Devotion 8.24.16

Running, as a sport, has been around a long time.  Running, as a passion here in the US, comes from the West Coast, specifically Oregon, with names like Steve Prefontaine to name a few.  Interestingly enough, the distance runner and the obsession with a marathon came from Greek history and mythology.  The history is that in 490 BC, a battle occurred between Greece and Persia, with the Athenian army defeating the Persians in the fields of Marathon, approximately 26 miles north of Athens.  Upon the victory, a man named Pheidippides ran back to Athens to announce the victory in the mid-summer heat.  When he ran in, he yelled, "Nike!" which was Greek for "victory" or "we have conqueured."  Upon making the announcement, he fell dead as the mythology goes.  (Go ahead, Google it.  I did.  I remember the story of the marathon and Nike! but wanted to get it right.)

Fast forward to the running boom starting in the 1960s, and Phil Knight, a University of Oregon track athlete, and his coach, Bill Bowerman, began selling shoes for a company they named "Blue Ribbon Sports" selling mostly Japanese made shoes.  You know where this is going as the running craze in the 1970s brought about a company in Oregon that changed the name to Nike! and the rest is history.

I love the sport of running, especially in the Olympics, because of participation in the sport via runs such as 10Ks, half-marathons, and a few marathons.  Life, itself, is a marathon that is a sport of endurance.  It is easy to grow weak in a marathon, to be tempted to quit, even in training for the event, because of the sacrifices being made while you train.  I was never even close to getting a medal in the event, finishing toward the back of the pack where they time you with calendars, but I loved running.

Paul talks to us about running and endurance.  In 2 Timothy, he speaks in analogy as he says, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing." (4:3 - 8)

It is by far easier to turn to what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear.  It is easier not to endure and live by the truth, and we all succumb at points in life to varying degrees.  We praise God for his Son Christ who overcomes that weakness we have and who restores us.  We thank God for Christ being with us on this race of endurance we call life and ask that we turn to him often for strength, renewal, and guidance.  We also turn to him for forgiveness and grace on this marathon of life.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, August 22, 2016

Devotion 8.23.16

When I was a child, the US Olympic team consistently fell behind in medals to the Soviet Union.  Sometime in my memory, there was a discussion about the merits of the process, largely individual, while countries like the Soviet Union began selecting and grooming its Olympic athletes from birth.  I don't have a clear memory of the timeline from that point forward, but this year, the US team hit gold consistently and dominated in areas that were once owned by the Soviet bloc (gymnastics for example).

As the games were closed out, the medal count was significant - 121 medals for the US team.  That is a point of pride for the athletes, their families and the efforts of the US Olympic team as they look back on those decisions made somewhere in the past to improve training processes, selection, and moving on toward the Olympics.  The interesting part of this Olympics was the standard pose, biting into the gold medal, which we were able to see quite a bit from the US athletes.

Interestingly enough, Paul was familiar with such games, perhaps even the Olympics in Greece, which was early in its history when he was alive.  As much stock as we put into the medals and achievement, Paul notes the difference between the perishable and the imperishable.  "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." (1 Corinthians 9:24 - 25)

Sometime in the next 100 years, a family member will hold up a medal and talk about the winner (grandpa or grandma) and talk about the Olympics they participated in, but their hope is not in the medal, nor is ours.  Our crown is Christ Jesus, whose death and resurrection gives us the hope, the imperishable wreath, of eternal life.

We pray a prayer for those who do not have this imperishable wreath and that the Spirit move their hearts to turn to Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Devotion 8.22.16

The Olympics have been a fun diversion from the responsibilities of life for the past two weeks.  Surprise performances, predicted performances, upsets, and records all in the span of a couple of weeks in sports that, dare we say, we'd never watch unless a loved one is involved.  "Pardon me, dear, but badminton is on right now.  Shortly after that, I plan on watching rowing and the trampoline semi-finals."

We seem to appreciate the amateur athlete (professional athletes who are compensated in any form but pay except in certain sports where we just admit it and put the professionals out there) seeking his or her best.  Like anything else, it comes with a cost as it creates drama, controversy, and maybe even division.  In the once upon a time world of the Cold War, the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their allies/satellites created a distinct line of "sides."  It even created the scoring mechanism to throw out the high and low score in order to eliminate the side taken in the scoring and judging booth.  It was where the world was going to see, on display through athletics, the superiority of one system and its set of countries over the other.  Freedom versus totalitarianism.  Right versus wrong.  Maybe even good versus evil.  It's even the stuff movies are made of such as the movie about the 1980 US hockey team and Al Michael's famous line, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Faith, presumably the healer of all wounds, takes a funny turn in Luke 12.  Christ, the redeemer and provider of the grace we receive through his suffering, death, and resurrection, says that his presence on earth was not meant to heal, but rather divide.  "I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.  For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.  They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (12:49 - 53)  Christ basically is saying, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." (Matthew 12:30)

Christ's grace, while sufficient for all of us, is not something all of us will receive when we rely on our own beliefs and unbelief.  His grace delivers us from sin, Satan, and death, and his judgement will be equally certain in its division.

We pray for those households divided and we pray for the body of Christ and its divisions.  We ask that Christ's grace and mercy are sufficient to bring people to faith in the one true God and that we take that message to the world divided.

Hope Men's Ministry