Monday, October 31, 2016

Devotion 11.1.16

The server at Hope is down as of Monday, Oct 31, 2016, and it has been for the past week.  The devotions are emailed every day from that server, so that is why you aren't getting devotions routinely.  Our apologies for the lengthy break in our daily devotion life.

Halloween is now a $7 billion dollar industry.  What was once a simple day of candy exchange and simple costumes has become a highly celebrated day with adult parties in full regalia, "trunk or treats" as in our own church, and houses decorated much like Christmas.  Oh, and we also allow our children to celebrate the day as well.

Did you know, however, that Martin Luther used October 31, 1517, to tack his 95 theses to the door at the church (Castle Church) in Wittenburg, Germany?  It is written that Luther used the door because the church, located on a university campus, served as a primary community board, like a bulletin board, and he chose the day because of several reasons.  First and foremost would be the traffic of those coming to the church to pay indulgences to see the collection at the church on All Saints Day (November 1).  With much of his concern centering on the power of the papacy (the pope) and indulgences, his theses would be read by those coming to the church that day.  Essentially he knew there would be high foot traffic.

Who are the "saints" observed on these occasions?  We are.  Those in Christ who've gone before us, our generations, and those who will be in Christ after us are all considered saints.  The readings for All Saints Day come from Revelation 7, 1 John 3, and Matthew 5.  In Revelation, we see the saints standing before God, clothed in white and serving God while he protects them.  In Matthew, Christ begins his first sermon in his ministry with the familiar "Beatitudes," and in 1 John 3, John writes, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is."

So, was Luther's hammering on the door with the 95 Theses the first "knock" of Halloween?  Did Luther anticipate the pen that wrote those theses would send shock waves felt almost 500 years later?  Do we think, each Halloween, of the true gravity of this day in our faith lives?

Pray that we strive to be with the saints whom we celebrate each year, and that we strive to imitate them in our faith lives.  Pray for those saints who ultimately lose their lives for their faith and pray for their safety as they seek to spread God's Word in hostile environments.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Devotion 10.20.16

My godfather's name is Jim Swenson, and Uncle Jimmy died early in my life (sometime while in college or early in my career I believe).  We met when we traveled to Minnesota in my childhood, but my age distanced me from real interaction with him, except early in my college years I when I went to visit.  At that point, Jimmy, a saxophonist and a member of a Big Band from the Big Band era, sat in the basement with me and my cousin playing reel-to-reel tapes for the better part of a night as Jimmy expounded on the virtuosity of the music he was playing.  Jimmy's voice had a sound that you expected from a jazz musician.  I, too, had played a sax in a Big Band in high school, and our band won several awards. So, I had an appreciation for the music he played, his discussion, and his analysis of what made it great, as did my cousin.

During the recent family reunion though, I learned something of Jimmy that made me stop in my tracks, and it will you as well.  Jimmy served in a tank crew in World War II, either as a commander of it or a driver, in (are you ready for this?) North Africa and Italy.  If you know the war, you know the blood shed and outright devastation that occurred there, and American tank crews were particularly vulnerable (see the movie "Fury" for a realistic taste of that experience).  The German tanks were, in a word, superior in every way to the American tanks with speed, firepower, and armor.  That didn't stop our boys in the war from serving, but many met their end in that duty.  Unfortunately our air power, which is supposed to run cover, wasn't much of a match for German air power either early in the war effort.

I told my cousin, when he mentioned that at the reunion, that he needed to see the movie "Fury."  "It won't change your opinion of your father," I said "But it will change your perspective in a way."  It's said Jimmy uttered nothing about the war when he returned, and he went on to marry my dad's sister (my godmother still living), have three children who all went into a medical field, and work as in management at Hormel.  He lived a "normal" life.  In truth, Jimmy was the glue of the group when it came together and could make everyone laugh as he talked and joked. I still get chills just thinking of what he saw, felt, and lived during his time in battle, and how that changed him as a man.

My dad, and most of my other uncles, served at that time.  They all went in with assumed risks.  My dad talked freely of his experience in the Pacific.  I never really had the chance to talk to the others with the barrier of age and distance.  I don't know what I'd ask if I had the chance or if I would just stay silent. 

It took me to a simple verse in John 15:  "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."  (v 13).  I suppose I'd thank Jimmy if I had the chance.  Perhaps we should, at all times, take that opportunity to thank someone for sacrificing of themselves in time, and maybe even thank their families for what they gave up, and potentially lost. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 10.19.16

As I sat in the room where we gathered for our reunion, I listened to the families that comprise the family I belong to, I was interested to listen to the conversation as we caught up with one another.  Conversations were cordial, but they usually centered around two topics:  what have you been doing these days and tell me about your children, grandchildren and other family members.

I remember vividly a sermon I once heard on the strength of a father's hands.  Hands so strong they could turn a bolt and nut without a wrench.  Hands that could build.  And yet hands so strong that they could tear down and put fear in hearts as they rose in anger.

I listened and talked of my own children, and I wondered with the theme of family what kind of families we had.  Were they families that were welcoming and inviting?  A place to retreat from the world and to be built up?  OR, were they families where the outer world was more welcoming and we left home to get away from the hell that was home?  I certainly saw both as a principal.  The school could be a place where we added to what the home was developing, or we were the escape where the kids came for at least seven hours of peace.

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord," writes Paul. What kind of home do we provide? 

Pray that we provide a God-pleasing household where his Word is prevalent, his love and our love between one another is present, and where we build one another up. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, October 17, 2016

Devotion 10.18.16

I was privileged to be part of the Baldner Family Reunion this past weekend in Austin, Minnesota.  Austin is the city of my fathers before me, my dad and his father Roy Baldner.  The family settled south of there originally after immigrating in the 1870s to Adams Township, Minnesota before moving into the town of Austin.  I had been asked to organize the reunion this year which includes my grandfather's six daughters and one son still remaining in my father's immediate family.  The ages of that group range from 97 years of age to 67 years of age with nine children in the family in all (including my dad) with my grandfather remarrying after losing the first wife (my biological grandmother) to uterine cancer in the 1930s.  So two moms produced the family of nine, and the grandchildren (people in my generation of the family) range in age from older than my grandfather's youngest child, my uncle, to people much younger than me.  Needless to say, the next generation, our own children, are in an age range of 50 years old to a recently born baby of one year of age.  Such is family.

If I were to be asked, and I haven't been for the record, to say what one statistic of modernity troubles me the most, I'd have to say the shift, culturally, of the nuclear family.  This came to my mind as I sat and talked to people I haven't seen in years (decades as a matter of fact). My aunts, now in their 70s - 90s, and their families have a nucleus that is present when we are gathered.  These families have worked over these past years to help aging parents (my own and my cousins' families as well), and have borne the burden of taking care of grandchildren as parents my age work or divorce and need assistance from family to ease the burden of single-parenthood.  Our family is not perfect, but it seems to have survived the storms we face in life and takes care of the needs within the family.

This family, as has been designed for many generations, provides the fabric for a sense of identity, for belonging, and for providing the fundamentals of life in terms of shelter, food, clothing, and other basic items needed to survive and have hope for thriving.  Societal types cite any number of occurrences that have helped create the modern problems we face, but the family's dissolution has to be a main problem as is the church's lack of ability or will to intervene as a church community.  It's not oversimplification to say such because scripture is filled with parents' commands for their children. 

"Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck." Proverb 1:8-9 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

We know the importance of our calling as parents.  And as a church, we assume that responsibility in the absence of the parent as we recently stated in baptisms in our church. 

We should pray and actively seek methods to ensure we are providing a rich, Christian environment for our children who may not be in broken families or in families that are intact.  Family is undeniably important, and our role as fathers and parents is equally undeniably important. Pray for continued guidance as fathers and parents to "train up our children in the way he, or she, should go." 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Devotion 10.12.16

I was fortunate enough to read "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau around 45 years of age. I had escaped mandatory readings in high school, and I was somewhat glad because I could read it on my own terms and not the teacher's.

Thoreau is an interesting individual, driven to escape the trappings of society by escaping the isolation of the woods in Massachusetts in the 1800s.  Thoreau had issues at the time with society in general and wanted to get away from it all.  His notes while on his journey led to his book, "Walden."

Interestingly, his isolation and desire for aloneness remind me of a passage in Mark 6.  They have returned from being sent out to minister and are telling Christ of all that happened.  Christ then says, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." (6:31)

That invitation is for us as well.  When do we spend time with Christ, in His Word and in prayer?  Where do we go to find the time to listen to Him as He tells us His desires for us in our lives?

Pray that we find time and use time to listen to Christ in mediation and prayer.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Devotion 10.11.16

How and when do we go to scripture?  What do we turn to the Word of God for?  This past week in Sunday School, I (Mr. King) was talking to Brent Smith (Gordy) in our opening puppet show.  Gordy was wearing a chamois in order to divine God's desires for him like Gideon did with lamb skin (Judges 6).  Unfortunately, Gordy wanted to know what soccer team to play for and wanted more of his mom's chocolate cheese cake.

Eugene Peterson admonishes this kind of attitude toward use of God's Word and going to God by calling it the "new trinity" of  the "holy wants, holy needs, and holy feelings."  His admonishment is that we have taken God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and made him in our own likeness, and seek his will to affirm our own.  The Word of God, then, becomes our source for answers for perceived needs and known desires, and to gain a feeling (inspiration is Peterson's word) rather than as a place to go to God on His terms, to hear His Word and literally digest His Word, and to learn about God and what His desires are for us as hearers and followers of His Word (Peterson, Eat This Book, 2006).

Mr. King told Gordy about Matthew 7, where Christ instructs us to ask, seek, and knock.  But think of it like this:  ask, and it will be given to you (God will answer you in His time).  Seek, and you will find it (read God's Word on His terms to learn about God and His desires for us as followers in our lives).  Knock, and it will be opened to you (you have to do something as you discern God's desires).

Pray that we go to God on His terms, that as men of God we go to Him to hear His desires for us on His terms.  Pray that we act in accordance to God's desires for us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Devotion 10.10.16

(Written in the absence of knowledge of the outcome of the Texas game tonight)

I don't dislike the Texas Rangers.  As I've said before, I've followed them since their inception after moving from Washington in the early 1970's.  And like the Astros, both teams delivered on disappointment.  We baseball fans in the state of Texas had two losers annually (or perennial losers I believe is how sports' writers say it...and I'm not a sports' writer).  By the 1990's, both teams began a consistent winning program, and by the 2000's, we had three World Series' appearances, one by Houston and two by Texas.  Then MLB put us together in the same division to create a "rivalry."  That said, I've not pulled against the Rangers, I just haven't pulled for them, until they play Toronto.

Toronto's bat tossing obnoxious form of play last year led to a formal punch to the face that was a shot heard 'round the world in the last game between the two teams in the regular season this year.  The beer tossing fans in Toronto (one at a baby last year and one at a player this year) probably threw beers in the bar at one another when that hook caught the jaw of Bautista.  That's a true rivalry.

Rivalries are healthy in many instances with gentle teasing and kidding occurring between the competitors (players and fans alike).  We identify with our team and we know them by their literal colors and MLB apparel.  Rivalries can get ugly too and result in brawls and arrests. 

Take that idea to faith.  As Christians, we are called to tell the world about the gospel of Christ.  Yet, as Christians, we have obstacles that keep us from doing that.  While we know we are supposed to tell the truth in love to the non-believer, the command to do so can be ignored for many reasons.  The non-believer comes in many shapes and sizes, yet like our rivals in sports, some are more apparent than others.  Did I talk to the man about faith and introduce him to Christ?  No, he had a turban on his head, was dark-skinned, spoke with an accent that led me to believe he was an Arab or Persian, probably a Muslim.  I turned and kept going.  I didn't want to offend, I felt resentment, or I was intimidated.  That testimony can be prevented by less obvious reasons as well when the opportunity to witness makes itself available.

Yesterday in Bible Study, we read the account in John as Christ goes to the well of Jacob in chapter four and asks a Samaritan woman for a drink.  That act crossed cultural and religious boundaries between Jews and Samaritans, yet we see Christ take an innocuous request for the most part, a drink of water, and make it into testimony about himself and offers his redeeming grace, "never be thirsty again, and become a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (4:14)  Our savior leads by example, showing us that he will break through the barriers that have been erected to take his message to the lost.  So, too, for us. 

Pray that we overcome our own inhibitions and witness when the opportunity presents itself.  Pray that we work to create those opportunities asking for God's Spirit to provide us with the words necessary to reach the non-believer.  Pray that God place those opportunities in front of us and that we overcome those obstacles that keep us from being witnesses.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Devotion 10.6.16

We sang a song that I tend to take notice of when it is played on Sunday.  The theme reminds me to see the world as Jesus does, not as media, Hollywood, peers, or sinful nature sees it.  But, as Jesus sees it.  “Give me your eyes for just a moment” is a line in the song. 

You can listen to the song through the link below or by clicking here.  It’s a great song, but here is the point of the devotion… how would things be different if Jesus was the one to influence us more than media, more than politics, more than fear, more than society?  What if our eyes saw through Jesus’ eyes, our experiences guided by His Word, our reactions tempered by His patience, our sympathy strengthened by his mercy and compassion?

Sometimes I feel as if I am fed with eyes of hate, eyes of judgment or anger, not always Jesus’ eyes.  I think if we stopped, paused for a moment and asked ourselves, “How does Jesus see this?” we would find a slow change in our lives, for the better.  And think if enough people stopped and did the same thing, the world would start to look different.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Devotion 10.5.16

Pastor Hiner returns today.

Sunday was a good day at church.  We had a unique guest speaker, Pr. Karim Baidaoui from Disciples of the Way Lutheran Outreach.  Pr. Karim is from Morocco, raised as a Muslim to a Jewish mother and Muslim father, now a Lutheran Pastor.  You can’t make this kind of stuff up.  As I suspect everyone else was, I was expecting him to share grand stories of his conversion, his life immediately after conversion, the challenges of being Muslim, of being Christian and so on. 

Whereas there were some stories that would perk our ears, for the most part he was reserved in those stories.  Instead, what I saw, was a pastor excited to proclaim how God’s salvation is the unbelievable free gift of Jesus Christ.  And how that salvation, that gift, puts a fire in our lives for our neighbor.  No matter how different that neighbor is.

“Fan into flame the gift,” is how Pr. Karim described it from 2 Timothy 1:6.  There are gifts that we receive that are good to look at, hang on a wall perhaps.  Then there are gifts that are meant to be used.  The grace of God is a gift indeed, but one that is not to sit idle, rather to be put to work within all of us. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Devotion 10.4.16

What do you do if you move to an area that doesn't support your team?  Let's say you move to a town, we'll call it "Lubbock," and learn that "Lubbock" considers itself a suburb of Dallas (if you want to discuss this further, I'd be more than happy to and will pick the time and place of our're buying).  We'll then say that "Lubbock" roots for two teams:  the Rangers and the Cowboys (even sends its hometown team, the Red Raiders, to Dallas for a "home game").  Do you pitch your home team gear and begin rooting for the teams in this town called "Lubbock" or do you remain steadfast?

No, I kept the Astros gear and sit in my lonely little chair in a lonely little spot in a bar to watch games periodically, mumbling to myself and acting defiantly.  There are others in this town called "Lubbock" who root for the Astros you know. (The St. Louis Cardinal franchise, for those of you who know me, is a separate discussion that involves my father-in-law.)  In other words, you remain faithful to the cause.

In another scenario, what do you do if you are a Christian and you get dropped into a crowd or move to an area where you are scarce in number?  Luther wrote about this and Pastor Baidaoui shared his quote in Bible Study the other day:  "If a Christian was in a place where there are no Christians he needs no other call than to be a Christian, called and anointed by God from within.  Here it is duty to preach and to teach the gospel to erring heathens or non-Christians because of the duty of brother love, even though no man called him to do so."  In other words, you go about living your call in Christ Jesus, maybe even with more of a burden than when in a host of witnesses.

Baidaoui talked about three kinds of churches:  good, better, and apostolic.  Clearly, by his definition, the apostolic church is the one that strives to achieve Christ's commission in our lives by creating disciples who are empowered to make more disciples.  It's not a permission giving process, but rather a position of seeing the need and filling it because the disciple knows it's his or her commission.

As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:  "So don't be embarrassed to speak up for our Master (Christ) or for me, his prisoner.  Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us.  We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work.  We had nothing to do with it.  It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it.  But we know it now." (The Message)

We cannot shirk from our duty, and in truth, it is our purpose and passion.  This is our prayer and our constant devotion - to be disciples for Christ and to be part of the body of Christ in witness to the non-believer.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Devotion 10.3.16

What is your greatest fear?  I'll go ahead and give you the answer:  death.  We know the day is coming, and yet we don't talk about it.  As one speaker I heard noted when he asked, "How many here look forward to heaven?" Every hand raised.  "And how many want to go now?"  People in the audience were truthful and lowered their hands.

As Christians, we know the promise of our faith in Christ, and yet we, too, dread that actual hour.  It makes sense, then, that perhaps our greatest fear of the terrorist, the Muslim terrorist to be specific, is the harm and damage his or her act creates when they take lives in a brash attack, killing people going about daily life whose only concern is going to the next activity that day.  That fear creates anger and resentment within us.

As Pastor Baidaoui from Dallas, Texas, a Moroccan who was once Muslim and now is a Lutheran pastor noted on Sunday, that fear is the work of the enemy (Satan) acting through non-believers, Muslims being one group in that sphere.  This plays out in the fall of man, when Adam tells God, "I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid." (Genesis 3:19)  Afraid?  Satan again says as much to God when he enters a debate about Job, "Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?  You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your had and touch all tht he has, and he will curse you to your face." (Job 1:9 - 11 Job has nothing to fear, so I want to strike him to create that fear.)

Satan plays to our fears.  It causes us to retreat.  Yet Christ tells us as much in John 16, when he says, "I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.* And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.  But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you." (1 - 4)

Christ tells us to have courage, and he also instructs us to remember they do not know the Father nor Christ.  Consequently, it is up to us to take the message of Christ to the non-believer, Muslim or other, and to share the Good News. Paul, once an enemy of Christ's and his followers, tells us this:  "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." (2 Timothy 1:6 - 9)

We have the opportunity, in this life, to bring the good news of Christ's suffering and death to a world hostile to that good news, including our own sinful nature.  Christ instructs us not to fear that world, and Paul reminds us to fan the flames of that faith of the gift of God.

Pray that we have the courage to take the message to our neighbor, to our community, and to those hostile to the good news.  Pray that we remain sober and alert for those opportunities and to know the world will continue to be hostile to the message, but that as disciples, we are taking the message to the lost for their own salvation.

*Pastor Baidaoui noted that the verse in John 16 (v 2) was the single best definition of jihad he read which ironically comes out of Christ's mouth, "Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God."

Hope Men's Ministry