Thursday, October 5, 2017

Devotion 10.4.17

“But, after a person has been justified by faith, there then exists a true, living “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).  That means that good works always follow justifying faith and are certainly found with it, when it is a true and living faith.  For faith is never alone but is always accompanied by love and hope.”  - Epitome of the Formula of Concord, 3.11
The above quote was actually written by Martin Chemnitz, not Martin Luther.  Chemnitz was often referred to as the “Second Martin” and was very much part of the writing of the Formula of Concord, one of our confessional books.  It is a great quote nonetheless that I believe is a good reminder to us all.
“Cheap grace” is what this quote warns us of.  Ever heard of “cheap grace”?  It is the thought that because of Jesus’ unrelenting and unconditional love, that we should just let sin flow from us freely.  God will still love us after all.
Paul states in Romans 6, “shall I continue in sin so that grace may abound?  By no means!”  That is the reality of our faith… it is never alone.  It never desires sin, accepts sin, is comfortable in sin.  Faith desires more.  It desires a change of life, a change of heart, a change in attitude and behavior.  Faith desires to love God, to love and serve our neighbors, to do good works. 
Rev. Eric Hiner

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Devotion 10.3.17

For the next month, we at Hope Lutheran Church will be focusing on some of the thoughts and truths that the Lutheran Reformation focused on.  Both in sermons and Sunday morning Bible studies, we will the reformation and the theology of Martin Luther.
“For all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls but the word of the Lord remains forever.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25

One may or may not have seen this symbol before.  It stands for Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum.  If that doesn’t help you, it means “The Word of the Lord stands forever”.  And this was the motto for the Lutheran Reformation.  Based on 1 Peter 1:24-25, this motto was a foundational theme for all who supported the Reformation.  For Luther, it was a truth that brought him the comfort and the courage that was needed to spark the reformation. 
When he refused to recant, or take back his writings, it was the foundation of the word that gave him the strength to refuse despite the deadly consequences.  He spoke boldly, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Amen.”
Imagine speaking these words knowing that the last person (John Huss) who made such a stand was burned at the stake.  Then again, imagine a world where everything you thought was good, everything you relied upon, everything that was foundational to your life turned out to be bad, dangerous and condemning.  Luther’s was dedicated to the church.  He was a monk of monks devoted to his order.  He was a theology professor dedicated to his work.  But then he found out the church was corrupt, looking out for self and not the people they were called to serve.  Everything crumbled around him, except for the Word of God.  It remains forever.  It is amazing how true this is for our lives as well.
Rev. Eric Hiner

Monday, October 2, 2017

Devotion 10.02.17

This is the continuation of a series of devotions inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Creation and Fall.  Why?  Because what better place to begin than with creation itself.  As they say, let’s make first things first.  No need to read the book to understand though you’re welcome to order a copy.

One of the common sins we see in our world is worship of creation rather than Creator.  It’s something that we can distance ourselves from if we like.  Thousands of years ago they worshipped the sun, the crops, bulls or other creatures, even other humans.  Today we’re rather distant from those concepts in our scientific world.  And yet as the picture below points out, sometimes our idols aren’t all that much different.  We worship money and the pursuit of money instead Dagon, a god meant to bring prosperity.  We worship enticing images instead of Asherah poles focused on fertility.  We worship our tvs and phones, sources of entertainment rather than Marqod, the god of dance. 
Image result for modern idols
Now don’t get me wrong, creation and created things are good.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light….”God creates for a reason and he doesn’t want us to think of created things as evil, as lesser, or inferior to “spiritual things”.  Instead, he wants us to see created things as gifts from the One True God, and turn to the Creator of all things and give our worship to him.  Take a moment to look at the things in your life, examine your attachments to them, and put them in the right order.  God has created all and all the worship returns to him.

Rev. Dan Borkenhagen

Friday, September 29, 2017

Devotion 9.28.17

This is the continuation of a series of devotions inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Creation and Fall.  Why?  Because what better place to begin something than with creation itself.  As they say, let’s make first things first.  No need to read the book to understand though you’re welcome to order a copy.

Ex nihilo. Out of nothing.  God creates out of nothing, because in the beginning, “the earth was without form and void.”

To humans this is scary stuff.  Emptiness is scary.  Sensory deprivation can break down humans in a matter of days or even hours.  When you think of our forefathers many had to suffer through psychological trials in taming the vast open plains where everything looked so similar and the distance between families was so large. 
What nothingness in your life is scary.  Are you bored?  I don’t mean sitting around twiddling your fingers bored, but bored with repetition in life- job, family, pastimes, maybe even church?  Is there a scary nothing out there, an unknown future, a question to which you don’t have the answer. . . and you dread it?

Nothingness is scary.  And yet God bursts into nothingness and he creates.  And then later in history he sends his son to earth, so that he can die, but then transform the nothingness of death into something, into resurrection.  The same God who created out of nothing, also resurrects out of nothing.  And the resurrection is a promise for us too. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4) So look into your life.  This isn’t a call to cast things aside and to simply get to something new.   This is a call to look at those areas of life that seem boring or unknown and start to imagine how God can transform them into something special.

Written by Pastor Dan Borkenhagen, Hope Lutheran 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Devotion 9.7.17

Got a slap on the wrist one time from a devotion I wrote.  "Do you think God cares about Tech football?" was the message.  No, I replied, but sports is a metaphor for life, so it is used to provide an image to the message.  I also apologized if the person who wrote me had been offended.

Paul, though, uses many kinds of images to convey his message.  As we journey through life, Paul encourages us to live intentionally, focused and remembering the reason we are on this journey.  "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

We pray that we focus on the cross.  We pray that we receive the Spirit to keep us focused through God's Word, the sacraments, and through worship, prayer, and study in God's Word.  We pray we live intentionally and not "aimlessly."

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Devotion 9.6.17

Baseball is the ultimate sport of attrition, and the month of September is where the finishers are determined based mainly on who is left standing.  It is said that Cub manager Joe Maddon tells his team to sleep in during the month of September, to not take as much batting practice, and to not throw as much warm up.  The players have responded by pulling away with the lead in their division.  So who is the best team in baseball?  The last one standing.

God rested after creation.  Christ rested and sought rest.  Rest is an important facet in life.  Isaiah gives us a great passage as to where we find our rest.

"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

We renew our strength in Christ.  We ask for renewal as we go through our lives.  In Him, we find rest, renewal, and strength.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 9.5.17

Hand-wringing.  We are all guilty of hand-wringing.  We are worriers, and some people worry to the point that they worry about what they were worrying about because they forgot but knew they were worried about something.  I had a friend I referred to as a professional worrier.  "Why should I worry?" I would say, "I'll give it to him and he'll worry about it for me."

Scripture is full of passages that basically let us know just how wrong it is for a Christian to worry.  Joshua 1:9 reminds us: "Have I note commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."  He's basically just promised us He is with us on this journey.  But, that's not good enough.  Sometimes I want to be a man's man and handle this one on my own.  God, you sit in the back seat and enjoy a good book because I'm a self-made man.  Got here this far with my solid mind and firmness in decisions, so I'll let You know when I'll need Your help.

Paul, however, proves we are wrong.  In Philippians 4, Paul reminds us that Mr. Self-Made Independent Man can only go so far.  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think of these things... I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

If, at the end of the day, I don't have these committed to heart, then I continue to rely on me.  However, these two passages tell me that God is with me, and to turn to God in everything.  Paul informs me to be at peace because I've given it to God.  Paul will also say, "My grace is sufficient for you."

That's a peace that surpasses all understanding.  We pray for that peace than only Christ can give.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Devotion 9.4.17

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, so much remains to be learned about the historic catastrophe this will definitely become.  Yet already, as the storm was happening, there were people affixing blame.  From the vein of politics and a set of political beliefs (not going to say right or left), we hear that this flood could have been minimized had the wide-open, non-zoning philosophy of Houston minimized development which leads to what would have been field-drainage now becoming run-off. So, the floods that reached the second- and third-story of some buildings might not have reached so high were Houston not an asphalt jungle.

Of course, there is the age-old question as to God and His allowing such catastrophic events to happen, and people are too happy to speak on God's behalf.

To the first blame-affixer we say this, when rainfall comes in feet (to put it in perspective, Houston received as much rain in a few days as Lubbock averages in three-plus years), flooding is going to occur asphalt or not.  To the second who asks about God and why this event happened, we ask, "Do you understand Romans 11:34?" "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?"  It is in our nature to want answers, and the truth is we may never know why these things happen.  I don't know what's on God's mind and I cannot, and should not, try to speak for Him.

These next few devotions will contain verses that have been particularly meaningful to me as I endure the journey called life, and when it comes to Harvey, were I still in Houston, Romans 5:1 - 5 would be painted on a wall in my house as we rebuild.  "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

If I'm down, I don't need someone standing over me wagging a finger.  I'm already there, and if I'm not, someone standing over me wagging their finger is not likely to get me to that frame of mind that says, "Man I really needed that!"  However, someone speaking the truth in love, telling me I cannot speak for God, yet I know that these events have shaped me and can shape us and help us to grow may soften my resistance to the message of the gospel.

Romans 5 reminds us that life is a journey and that suffering is a part of that journey.  It reminds us to be prayerful in finding God's meaning and purpose in our lives through that suffering to progress through suffering, endurance, character, and hope in the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

We pray for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and all victims of tragedies that impact only one person or millions.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Devotion 8.24.17

Ask the Pastor...

During a conversation recently, a friend (financial advisor and a very religious man) told me that “retirement is not biblical”. He was half-kidding I think, but certainly the idea of retirement
(the practice of leaving one's job or ceasing to work after reaching a certain age) is a relatively new practice (and even newer as a government policy).  I don’t think there is much about retirement in the Bible.

This is an interesting question, actually there wasn’t a question in there.  The questioner is correct that there are not many Bible verses about retirement, in the sense that we understand retirement at least (putting money aside for the day when we choose not to work).  There are peculiar Bible verses though that bring some thought to the issue, such as “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” Matthew 6:19.  But I believe it to be an interpretive leap to say that saving for retirement is sinful.  The real issue at hand comes in the end of that saying from Jesus, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  And that really becomes the issue.  Not just in retirement but in all life.

Another interesting note is how the church has viewed such issues.  For instance, I know that there was a time when taking out life insurance was considered sinful by some.  It was viewed as gambling on one’s life and not trusting in God to take care of your loved ones.  This isn’t heard much anymore as people are more educated about what life insurance really is used for.  But one could say the same thing about retirement, or any saving account I guess.  But still, the Bible doesn’t support this.  In fact, there are many examples in the Bible of saving for times when life becomes scarce.  That is how Joseph came to power in Egypt after all, interpreting Pharaohs dreams to lead to creating a crop reserve to survive the incoming drought.

This question really comes down to the issue of vocation.

I will say this, in ministry there is no such thing as retirement.  When I am done being a pastor, enjoying what retirement benefits I have, I will find a new way to proclaim Christ to the world around me.  I believe this to be true for all Christians.  Our vocations change in life, but our vocation to serve God in who we are and what we do never goes away.  We are the same servants of Christ and neighbor in whatever context we find ourselves, retirement or not. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Devotion 8.22.17

The PC environment has been a growing business.  It started as a way to curb insensitive remarks, mainly as heard and observed, mostly in university settings.  Today?  It's a cottage industry that thrives on not just what is said, but what is perceived to be meant through not just words, but actions that include, but are not limited to what you post on Facebook or other social media, your conduct at school or in the workplace, and social settings such as a party you attend, what you wear, and perhaps even books on your bookshelf.

So, as I was listening to "The Lutheran Hour" last Sunday on the way to church (790 am at 8 a.m.), I wondered where the speaker (didn't get his name, I could look it up, but that would take time) was going when he started his message by talking about the PC environment.  He then went to the passage in Matthew 15 where the Canaanite woman approaches Christ to heal her daughter.  Just the set up is a clash in culture.  Christ, a Jew, and a Canaanite woman, together that are like oil and water.  When she asks, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." (v 22)  She, an outsider, knows who Christ is.  Christ ignores her at first, and then he proceeds to tell her, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (v 24)  She persists, to which He then says, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (26)

Excuse me?  Did Christ really just say what we just read?  Did He tell the Canaanite woman she, and her people, were unworthy "dogs" not to receive the Word of God?  The woman is unphased and retorts, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table." (27) 

Was she offended?  We don't know.  Did Christ intend to offend her?  We don't know, but as Pastor noted on Sunday as did the Lutheran Hour speaker, Christ is the judge of our faith, and Christ used opportunities to test that faith (and still does today).  Christ finally said to her, "'O woman, great if your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed instantly."

From this, we learn that we do not withhold the Word of God from others because of what our sinful hearts deem "worthy."  We learn that Christ alone judges.  We learn that Christ's Word was made available even to a "Canaanite woman."  Finally, we learn that Christ's Words may not be PC, but His was a pure heart, not sin-filled, so His Words were spoken in truth and in love. 

We pray that our words are not divisive, but that when we speak from scripture, we let God's Words convict or heal.  We pray that those we reach out to are receptive and that the Spirit brings them to faith. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Devotion 8.21.17

There is a story about a judge who made the observation that there are so many laws on the book that a district attorney could indict a ham sandwich.  That implies that a sandwich sitting on its own doing nothing could, either in fact or through circumstance, be violating a law on the books.

So, in Christ's day, the Pharisees were armed with a  considerable number of laws on the books for the "faithful" to follow.  In Matthew 15, Christ says, "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." (v 11)  The disciples come to Christ and let Him know He's offended the Pharisees.  What He said was in response to what the Pharisees viewed as a violation of the ceremonial washing of hands prior to eating.

Christ goes on to say, "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.  But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone." (17 - 20)

What's important to you is what comes out of my mouth routinely, so what is it that I consistently say or do?  Does it honor God and build up my brother or does it tear down and shred the very fabric of what God wants me to be?  Sometimes we say, "I'm just speaking the truth, and if that offends someone, so be it."  Yes, but if it came from my heart to intentionally offend someone, then my heart is not honoring God and I'm making a mockery of Christ's words.

Pray that we honor Christ and what He teaches by what we say and do.  Pray that we build up one another and those we come into contact with.  Pray that any "truth" we speak come from scripture.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Devotion 8.16.17

My dad grew up in southern Minnesota and lost his mom at the age of eight (or thereabouts).  His father (my grandfather) fell into what was probably depression, so it came to the grandparents to help raise my dad and his siblings.  Dad spent much time on a farm in southern Minnesota, working an old plough horse, gathering eggs, and milking cows.  My dad was a tall man for the family, coming in at 6'2" and had large hands and wrists which for me were a source of strength.  Those hands built and those hands and wrists could turn things that the average man's hands could not.  I always attributed that to his time on the farm.

There were few times, but I remember them well, where those hands could strike fear into my childish mouth and attitude.  I could say something with that tone and that hand would go back.  My dad said nothing, but that hand going back spoke volumes.  I knew the severe pain (to me at a young age) that hand could inflict.  When it went back (which as I said was rare), I knew the line that I had crossed was well behind me, and there was no turning back.

So, I read Job 38:3 with interest.  Older interpretations say, "Gird up your loins and stand like a man..." as God spoke to Job.  Job had sat around in a pitiful state for a period of time, moaning and groaning to God with the "why me?" attitude (and after what Job endured, we all would have to be honest).  "Gird up your loins" we are told means "prepare for war" as the Israelites would bind the cloth around their loins to go into battle.  In an older NIV bible,  God says, "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer me." 

Goodness.  God has drawn back that hand as Job stands before Him finally getting what he's wanted, a chance to ask God why all this happened to him.  God basically told Job, "I'm God, you're not.  Don't talk to me like that."

Yet we know we can go to God and bring all our concerns, sufferings, and joys to Him.  In fact, God uses our sufferings, as Paul noted, to bring us to Him, even when perhaps we are angry with God Himself.  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12)

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is an excellent reminder of the power of taking all we want and need to Christ in prayer:

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer


Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, August 14, 2017

Devotion 8.15.17

We get angry, and sometimes we direct our anger at God.  Why did you let this happen, to me of all people?  What kind of God allows this to happen?

There is a man in scripture who asks this.  His name is Job.  Job has lost everything but his life.  Job seeks answers.  His friends come and bear poor witness to Job.  Surely it's something you've done, Job, they suggest. 

God finally comes to Job, and He does nothing to answer Job's questions.  Rather, God speaks from a whirlwind and says, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress of action like a man;  I will question you, and you make it known to me."  (38:2-3)

God eventually restores Job and chastises his friends.  What we learn is that God knows we will or have gotten angry, even at Him, and yet God comes to us.  We see this in Peter's relationship with Christ, who at times is very fond of Peter, and at other times lectures Peter like a child.  Through it all, we know that Christ "pulls Peter out of the water when he's sinking" (Matthew 14) on many occasions.  And so to us, God and Christ pull us from the water from which we sink.

We take our concerns to Christ, and we ask Him to pull us from the water.  Sometimes we may not be in the right frame of mind, but God still hears us and listens.  In the end, as with Job, He may not answer our questions, or as with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, He may simply say, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." That grace redeems us and gives us everlasting life, for which we lift a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Devotion 8.14.17

When you are at camp, watching teenagers 24/7, you are exhausted after one day.  The problem is there are six days to camp.  By days 4, 5, and 6, you are dead tired.  I found myself so tired that by Wednesday evening I fell asleep as the HS boys played music and challenged each other to manly feats of strength around 11 p.m. at night.

In Matthew 14, we see Christ exhausted (good to know that the Son of God himself gets exhausted physically).  He's learned his cousin John is dead, executed by Herod as a favor to his wife.  Jesus withdraws in a boat as a retreat, but the crowds follow Him anyway. As a result, Christ "had compassion on them and healed their sick."  The disciples tell Christ the land is desolate the crowds need to leave them alone and go find food for themselves.  Christ, however, says no, and feeds the five thousand from five loaves and two fish. 

By evening, the crowd is sent away and Christ sends the disciples to the other side of the lake (sea) in a boat.  He stays back and prays.  Christ had to be physically exhausted and emotionally drained at the loss of John the Baptist.  Yet He rises and goes to join the disciples in the boat far off of land by this point.  The disciples are in the boat rocked by waves and see what they believe to be a ghost. In reality, it is Christ walking on the sea to them (walking on the water).  Christ says, "Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid." Peter asks for Christ to command him to come out onto the water as well to which Christ says, "Come."  Peter begins to walk on the water toward Christ, and upon looking down at the water, begins to sink.  Christ asks Peter why he doubted, reaches down, and pulls him up, taking him to the boat.

It's good to know that on a day where He is physically tired, Christ still has the strength to pull Peter out of the fix he is in, sinking into the water.  That should reassure us, even tired counselors at camp, that Christ is there for us too, never too tired to reach down and pull us up from the fix we find ourselves in. 

We pray a prayer of thanksgiving that Christ is there to pull us from our situation, to literally save us from ourselves.

Hope Men's Ministry
Sermon 8.13.17 - Pastor Eric Hiner

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Devotion 8.10.17

When I say the word "busybody" what comes to mind?  In a men's devotion, I feel safe in saying that most of us picture a woman of some kind, who makes others' business her own and uses the phone or other medium to share what she's learned.  Of course, it's information.  As they said on "Hee-Haw," "You'll never hear one of us repeating gossip, so you better be sure and listen close the first time."

So, explain to me this.  Why does Paul, in the passage used from 2 Thessalonians 3 for yesterday's devotion, speak to us saying this: "Now, we command you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.... For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Chris to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.... If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him.  Do not associate with him in order that he may be ashamed.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." ?  I note the masculine "brothers" and "him" as Paul describes the offending "busybody." 

Might we, over time, have forgotten that men can be as bad at the business of "busybody" as we proclaim women to be?  With men, it sometimes involves leaning in and asking the brother, "Hey, you heard why he had to leave his company," as he lifts his head and looks around, signaling this is going to be very juicy, "Let's just say he and his secretary got a little too close."

Paul doesn't give us a good description of what the busybody's offending sin is, other than being a busybody (8th commandment), just that they are no longer working and carrying their fair share, and that they need to quietly go about the work of Jesus Christ.

Paul concludes this with an excellent benediction that we all need to keep in mind as we go about our days.  This benediction can serve as a warning if we are about to jump into "busybody" mode, and it can serve as a guide to help us quietly go about the work of Christ:  "Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all."


Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Devotion 8.9.17

"An idle mind is the devil's workshop."  That's what was said in my youth as we sat around in the summer, somedays doing nothing.  It was said with a rhythmic southern tone, almost like a reverential tone intended for worship in a tent revival.  Not that I've ever been to one mind you, but still, it came from my friends' moms or maybe even my own when they wanted us to be active but the heat of the day and the humidity in Houston could zap the strength from a piece of steel.

Is, however, an idle mind the devil's workshop?  I've hardly been able to ever keep my own mind from being idle.  It's either focused and working on a task, or it is in a separate gear trying to create and thinking, planning, plotting, or scheming.  It's probably those last two that are more in line with Satan's delights.  Plotting and scheming.  Deciding to take care of things on my own terms, I seek my own way.  I plot and scheme to change the outcome. 

Paul says this, "Now, we command you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.... For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Chris to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.... If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him.  Do not associate with him in order that he may be ashamed.  Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." (2 Thessalonians 3)  That's an interesting command from Paul, who as the study bible notes speaks with "apostolic authority."  In Galatians 5, Paul provides a list of sins that are "works of the flesh," and in 2 Thessalonians, he puts being a "busybody" in the same category and our brothers in the faith are to act accordingly.  To separate themselves from him.  All that for being idle and for being a busybody.

When does my nose get put in a place where it doesn't belong?  When does yours?  Like other works of the flesh, we should discourage these kinds of behaviors, and as Paul notes in 2 Thessalonians to "encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do (our) their work quietly...." 

We seek forgiveness when our minds wander to places they shouldn't, when we take the 8th commandment and break it. We pray that our minds are on Christ Jesus, and we ask that our work be done to glorify Him and Him alone.  

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, August 7, 2017

Devotion 8.8.17

I've traveled considerably the last few weeks.  St. Louis, Austin and New Braunfels, Kansas City, and of course Ceta Canyon for camp.  The highway department must see summer as the time to logically make road repairs because the interstates and highways were filled with construction projects.  The signs are familiar:  Road work ahead; Observe all warnings;  Protect our workers; Double fines in construction zones; Merge - left lane closed; 65 mph; and, finally, End Construction, twice in case you missed it the first time.

When I was a kid they used those torches to highlight a project or road closure.  They looked like those bombs from a Warner Brothers cartoon, the kind that Yosemite Sam might have lit for Bugs Bunny.  You remember the scene, lights the bomb, Bugs turns the tables, Yosemite Sam blows up (of Daffy Duck and his beak gets blown backwards).  Anyway, they used to use the old torches that sat low to the ground and had a flame that was meant to steer you away, along with wooden barricades.  Today, the road is lit up in a shade of orange that can be seen from miles away, big signs, and now the introduction of electronic warning signs.

And yet I'm willing to bet that people still miss them, or err on the side of driving recklessly to beat just one more car until it is too late.  What a great metaphor for us in life.  The signs are there, yet we fail to read them or pay attention or we decide to take the risk.  Where does it get us?  Trouble, avoidable trouble. Paul says something interesting in 2 Thessalonians reflective of this line of thinking:  "As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother." (3:13 - 15)  Paul has given complete instructions, so stay with it and deal with those who do not follow his instructions. 

Paul closes by saying this, "Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all."  (v 16)  We pray for peace through Christ as we travel through life.  We pray that Christ be with us, and we ask for His forgiveness when we fail to observe those warning signs placed before us in life. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Devotion 8.3.17

A question arose on Sunday that I didn't really know that answer to, so today, we "Ask the Pastor."

What is the Book of Acts?  It's not listed as an epistle, nor is it listed as a gospel.  What, specifically, is it?

In asking Pastor Hiner, he said that was a great question because there are four gospels, the three "synoptic gospels" (Matthew, Mark, Luke aligning closely) and the gospel of John.  These are distinguished from the rest of the New Testament because they deal with the life of Christ.  Then there are the epistles beginning with Paul's letters and then the remainder attributed to other disciples (or author not known such as Hebrews).  The Book of Acts, then, is a continuation of the gospel of Luke, clearly written to Theophilus from Luke as he provides an account of the life of Christ first and then moves into the life after Christ - literally the Acts of the Apostles. 

Pastor noted that there are those in the theological world who would consider Luke and Acts as both gospel, with the distinguishing factor being the gospels are attributed to the life of Christ.  Yet in Luke we see a continuation of the ministry started by Christ with the Spirit actively involved in moving the disciples to a powerful level of delivering the Word of God to a world starved for the message.

So, the Book of Acts is a continuation Luke, separate from the gospel but very closely related.

Thanks for the question!

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Devotion 8.2.17

On Sunday, both Texas teams, the Rangers and the Astros, inducted a member into the Hall of Fame.  That same Sunday, Adrian Beltre secured his future spot in the Hall of Fame by hitting his 3000th hit.  To seal a great baseball Sunday, Houston and Texas both lost their games in honor of the lifetime accomplishments of three players. 

So, too, with faith.  Some days we win, and some days we lose.  We hear Paul's words in Ephesians as he says, "I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (4:1-5) 

How do we do?  Some days we win, and some days we lose.  Some days we look like the church Christ leads, working together and following God's Word to seek direction in our lives, and other days we look like a company in need of a rescue from a strong-handed CEO.  Some days we hear Christ's desires for our lives in our own homes and other days we desperately seek healing from our dysfunction. 

We pray that we keep our eyes on Christ at all times.  Peter, when fixing his eyes on Christ, walked on water.  We pray that we turn to Christ in times of need, such as Peter when he took his eyes off Christ and began to sink. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, July 31, 2017

Devotion 8.1.17

Baseball lost its sense of humor at some point in time.  Antics and "tomfoolery" were once the hallmark of the game, and now, the athlete basically relies on the game to sell itself.  This is true in many sports, not just baseball, but baseball once gave us great nicknames, great stories, and great practical jokes visible to all to see. 

Imagine my surprise last week when something happened in baseball that has the potential to become lore.  For some reason, the umpire that night had a burr in his saddle, and he summarily ordered Adrian Beltre to stand on the batting circle.  Now, I've been to many baseball games in my lifetime, pro, college, and high school.  I've sat behind the first base line on many occasions and in my total memory, my question was always, "Why don't they stand on the batting circle?"  You will note that batters get their gear, wipe the bat, put a weight on the bat and begin swinging, mostly off the circle.  But no, the umpire focused on Arian Beltre and ordered him to stand on the circle.  Beltre gave his rationale:  "That's a great place to get hit."  The umpire was relentless, so Beltre complied by simply picking up the circle and moving it to where he was standing.  Now, baseball has very strict rules on the configuration of the field, which includes the batting circle (on-deck circle) - click here for a view.

The umpire wasn't amused (although the rest of baseball was).  Beltre found himself tossed for moving the circle (essentially a mat, not a diagram on the field).  I felt it was funny.  "You want me on the circle, fine, I'll move it over here and stand on it."  Classic, but the ump decided tossing Beltre for his defiant act was the needed move. 

The umpire reminded me of the Pharisees in scripture, all too aware of the technicality of something but lost in the spirit of the event.  He erupted against a player. It's interesting to read the term "stiff-necked" in the Book of Concord and see that it relates to people of faith (" condemn only the false and seductive teachings and the stiff-necked teachers..." - "Preface to the Book of Concord"), who really believe they are people of faith.  In scripture, we see the Pharisees on many occasions observing Christ's actions and deeming them unacceptable because they, the actions, don't follow "respected traditions."

As we look back at the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13, we remember that Christ said the owner of the field told the servants not to pull the weeds, but rather wait until they mature together and then at harvest they would be separated.  As our Pastor noted, when does the church, like the Pharisees, pull a weed when in fact it may have been a perfectly good and healthy crop?  Are we more concerned about what the people are wearing in church or that they are there hearing the Word?  Are we more concerned about the young man's tattoos and piercings or that he is in church hearing the Word?  Do we seem to gravitate toward the man who came in with a suit on looking fine and dapper and saying all the right things as we ignore someone who really doesn't look like us?  Heal on the Sabbath, Jesus, or do you not know healing on the Sabbath isn't permissible?  You get the idea. 

We need to be in constant prayer that we are not stiff-necked people of "faith."  We need to pray that our faith is one that is excited on sharing the Word of God and reaching out to the lost. As our Pastor notes, we need to remember  God is God, acknowledge we are not God, and remember to let God be God, and pray to have Him use us as His vessels.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Devotion 7.31.17

Weed control at this time of year is especially timely.  Farmers keeping weeds out of the field and homeowners working to keep weeds out of the lawn and flower beds.  West Texas has some weeds that are particularly interesting.  Fierce survivors in an arid climate that totals about 18 inches per year, their roots grow deep and their seeds seem to be able to find their way into cracks that you couldn't intentionally plant anything in. 

During leadership training, we once talked about "pulling the weeds in organizations."  What are those?  Bad habits that had taken root:  behaviors and practices that were detrimental to the organization.  Sometimes weeds in organizations are traditions that have taken root and become sacred, but they are detrimental none-the-less.  Leaders have to be wise when pulling up these weeds because they can take a toll on the organization as those who have become attached to them become casualties of the "weeding."

In Matthew 13, Christ speaks of a man who planted his crop, and in the night, enemies came and sowed weeds in the same field.  As the plants came up, his field hands discovered what had been done and asked the owner if they should pull the weeds.  No, he said, because to do so would be destructive to the good crop.  Let them all grow and mature and then when we cultivate, we'll separate the two and burn the weeds (paraphrase of 24 - 30).  Clearly all of Christ's parables were parables meant to teach.  What do we learn from this?  Our Pastor spoke to this recently, and his answers were good to hear.

Sometimes the church hears this and takes action to be the one who separates.  This can be disastrous.  Christ says the master instructs the servants to not pull the weeds but rather allow all to come to maturity and when the harvest is brought in, then they will separate the two.  Clearly for us. Christ will be the master of the fields that we have harvested as his church on earth, but it isn't for us to decide exactly who is truly faithful and who is not.  Yet our judgement is flawed, and we can chase away someone who is not a weed.

Our constant prayer is that we faithfully sow the seeds of faith by allowing the Spirit to work through us while at the same time not taking the role of God in judging and "pulling the weeds" ourselves.  When we speak of sin, the scripture needs to be our source, but God will ultimately be the judge, not his church.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Devotion 7.27.17

Self-made man?  What does that really mean?  That no one in a man's history had any impact on him, who he is, and the path he took to become what he has become? 

Interestingly enough, that sentiment dominates in our culture which still is predominantly Christian, and our Christian faith teaches us quite the opposite.  A familiar Lutheran hymn says this, "We give thee but thine own, whatever the gift may be.  All that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord from thee."  (William How, 1854)  After we gave our offering to God, we would sing this hymn.  It comes from 1 John 3:17, "But if anyone has the world's good and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"  We give God what he has given us, whatever that gift may be (the widow's mite for example).  All we have is God's alone, given to us as a trust to take care of while we are here.  That's all we have, including our own lives.  "You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

So, too, we come to grace given to us by faith, and this grace is not of our own doing as we might sometimes think.  Sola Gratia. Grace alone.  The free gift of faith from the Spirit, bought with a price, gives us the gift of grace, bought with a price.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing;  it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8 - 9 - the theme verse of our camp).

How does that message get messed up in today's culture, as it did in Luther's time?  How does the simplicity of grace through faith in Christ, not of our own doing nor through anything we can do," get lost in translation?

Pray we help teach the truth.  Faith alone.  Grace alone.  Scripture alone.  Pray that God's Spirit work that truth in love to the lost, and that we don't get in its way as we seek to help others know that.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Devotion 7.26.17

We watched the movie "Luther" with the HS students one afternoon with Pastor Hiner narrating events as they unfolded in the movie.  Pastor Rohde did the same with the Junior High youth. 

There is a scene in which Luther is having to explain his 95 Theses to a cardinal assigned by the pope to investigate the matter, and Luther provides a painstaking explanation of the evidence in scripture to support his theses.  It is clear in the scene that the cardinal is unfamiliar with the scripture he is citing.  Later, in the same movie but a different scene, Luther suggests he would gladly recant these theses he's presented if someone can show him in scripture where he is incorrect.

Sola Scriptura.  Scripture alone.  Interestingly enough, if you enter Sola Scriptura in a search engine like Google, you'll get a litany of articles refuting that there is nothing scriptural about "Sola Scriptura."  To Luther's point in the movie the kids saw, "If you can show me any fault in my claims from scripture, then I'll reconsider."  Scripture, the place we go to see if what we articulate as faith is correct, from our practice to what we say we believe.  Had Luther seen evidence that his views were incorrect from scripture, then he would have said, "I do recant."  No one was able to produce such evidence.

In addition, I'm not certain Paul would agree with the notion that there is nothing scriptural about Sola Scriptura.  In 2 Timothy 3, Paul writes, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."  Our faith, a gift from God, gives us grace.  As we grow in that faith, scripture and scripture alone is the source of that growth and the saving message of the gospel.  We cannot create a theology that doesn't exist in scripture, and we cannot add to what we know about God that doesn't come from scripture.  If someone teaches something contrary to our faith, scripture alone is the source to be measured against.   The substance of our faith comes from scripture.

God's Word is alive and in us.  God's Word is that which was spoken to create and recorded to teach, reproof, to correct and for training in righteousness.  Everything we take in as Christians needs to be held against scripture for scripture to shed light on it.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, July 24, 2017

Devotion 7.25.17

How difficult a concept can a child in school understand?  From elementary to HS, during the week of camp, the kids were exposed to this idea that the Reformation is still relevant because it is still all about Jesus.  Through it, the kids learned "Sola Fide; Sola Gratia; Sola Scriptura."  Faith alone.  Grace alone.  Scripture alone. 

Did they understand it?  I don't know, we didn't take an exit test to see if they had mastered the simplicity and complexity of Luther's reforms he taught, but I'd bet they understood it  as well as any other child of God, 0 - 99 years old.

Sola Fide.  Faith alone.  That radical notion that faith comes from God and is written on our hearts by God, not an act of man but an act of God's Spirit.  Luther wrestled with this as he sought to satisfy an "angry God," angry with him for the sin he committed.  It was in Romans 1 that Luther gained insight to faith alone.  "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (the rest of us). For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" (16-17) Paul cites Habakkuk to whom Luther turned for greater insight into this passage.  Faith is a gift that comes from faith (Hebrews 11 - "...the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction (certainty) of things not seen.")  Our faith in what is hoped for is the source of our faith given to us by God which creates the righteousness (justification) needed for salvation.

What made this radical?  The simplicity of knowing that it isn't acts or indulgences that right wrongs, but the faith given to me by God threatened the institutions of the day.  To a degree, works righteousness still hangs in the air around us confusing the believer about not just the source of faith, but also the works needed to "right wrongs."  The kids listed many as they had questions of the pastors about certain acts, the "forgiveableness" of them, and God's love and mercy in the sight of judgement for our sins.  Faith alone, they would hear.

The Reformation is still ongoing.  The Reformation is still relevant because, in the end, it is all about Jesus.  We pray for that simple truth to stay with us for our generation and generations to come.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Devotion 7.24.17

The classic all-time assignment given at the first of every school year, according to legend, is the "What I Did This Summer" paper.  It has little to do with what you actually did, but rather it is intended to give the teacher some idea of just what your writing and spelling skills are.

I  was never one to write about camp because I didn't go to camp as a child or even in my adolescent years.  My summer paper assignment would have read like all the others in my neighborhood.  Something to this effect:  "I had a good summer.  Summer was good because we went on vacation and went to Astroworld.  We also went to Astros baseball games in the Astrodome.  I caught fish at our bay house.  I went to my friends' Donald and David's house and played.  That is why I had a good summer."

The world of blue collar workers along the Port of Houston was not filled with much time or money to send kids to camp, and in truth, our youth group at church was rather pathetic.  Consequently, there wasn't even an opportunity to go to camp put forth by the church.  So, it hasn't been until later in life that I have become acquainted with youth camp.  Yet Hope Lutheran, our church, has built a fine youth program via a pastor and volunteers who give of their time to provide engaging and meaningful activities to our youth, one of which includes an annual camp in the southern portion of Palo Duro Canyon known as Ceta Canyon.  So, here is my assignment for this upcoming school year in Miss Easterlin's second grade class, (my actual teacher in second grade) who was known for her stern and fierce gaze that gave the warmth of a piece of steel in January in Alaska.  We didn't want to disappoint Miss Easterlin because she carried a paddle with her everywhere she went and executed the swat in mid-stride and kept walking.

"This past summer, we took a considerable number of youth from our church to camp in Ceta Canyon for our annual youth camp.  Our congregation, Hope Lutheran Church and School, sent about 28 youth, seven adults to be counselors and lead music, and one pastor.  The theme of the camp was 'The Reformation - After 500 Years It Is Still About Jesus.'

"And it is still about Jesus after Luther spelled out the true foundations of eternal life as found in scripture:  Faith Alone;  Scripture Alone; and, Grace Alone (Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia).  In each of these concepts, we find that Christ gives us the gift of faith through His Holy Spirit.  It is scripture that is the basis of this faith, not man, and this faith in Christ alone is what gives us the grace needed for eternal life.  Our Bible Studies and Spiritual Growth time, about four hours each day, were dedicated to this important concept.  It was important then and still is today because we still have people who will insist that works and other such regulatory acts (like indulgences) are still needed to obtain faith.  Luther risked life and limb for speaking against such practices and yet this belief still exists.

"We also played games dedicated to exhausting our youth so that the adults would fall asleep by 2 am and the youth would then commence to plotting and planning their next prank.  These games are also meant to give youth an opportunity to get to know one another and their counselors which deepens the relationships in an appropriate manner.  One phenomenon that may take an anthropologist to answer or study is the ever present desire to eat that exists in youth.  Snack before breakfast or on the way to breakfast, eat breakfast, come back to the room and open another bag of chips, donuts, or some healthy snack, grab a water or drink, go play and learn, then eat, snack, and eat some more.  The kids in Uganda get porridge, and the kids in America get Doritos and other such snacks to fill the void left by a high carb and protein diet provided by the camp mess hall.

"In a nutshell our faith and its future has promise because it is in the hands of God, but there are faithful youth who will take this faith when our generation and others have moved on to the heavenly realm.  While we may bemoan younger generations, activities like camp always give me reassurance in these kids who have dedicated a portion of their summer to being active in God's kingdom."

I'm certain Miss Easterlin would read this, grade it, and write a comment along the lines of "may want to think about how you organize your work."  She'd probably swat my behind as well because of the look I gave her when I saw her comment on my paper.

That's what we did this summer at camp. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Devotion 7.6.17

When I was young, in my 20's, I returned to the place of my youth to teach, and consequently, I returned to the church I had grown up in.  My pastor at the time invited me to use my teaching ability to teach Adult Bible Studies during the evening when he needed a substitute.  Yes, I said gladly, because I am now a learned individual having attained my degree and credentials.  So, I went up to teach the subject he assigned when asked to the adults in attendance.

In my first opportunity, I had, prior to the class, studied and put together quite the lesson.  It was, in my estimation, brilliant.  I put together one question, specifically, that so impressed me that I considered having it written in calligraphy when done and framed in my house (walls of the house not yet busy with children's pictures since we were newly married).  I got to that point in the lesson where I asked this question that drew on my studies back in college.  The question would sing, I felt, and those who were in the class would probably have tears well up in their eyes asking one another, "Is this little David who once went here as a child?"  Dropping the question in front of them, I waited to savor the moment of the ooo's and ahh's coming from the class.  Miss Henry, my kindergarten teacher, was in attendance, at that time well into her 80s. I asked the question and smiled with confidence waiting for conversation to stem from both from the question and the brilliance it took to even come up with such a question.  Miss Henry immediately answered saying, "I'm not sure what you're asking, but I do know that we are saved by loving Christ."

It was a small, single straight pin that deflated that ego balloon that had probably inflated itself to an 80' circumference and left me in a pile of humiliation.  When class was over, I could feel the adults leave wiping their feet on my back as I lay in a huddled mass of complete embarrassment.

So it is with teaching.  You live, you learn.  Teaching is an activity that requires the teacher to be both the teacher and the student in one act.  The teacher will teach, no doubt, but the teacher will also learn from the students, regardless of age.  A great teacher suspends ego because a great teacher knows it's not about them.  Christ is just such a model, seizing every opportunity to teach.  Every moment we have recorded in the gospel is one in which Christ is teaching through either teaching, sharing stories, healing, praying, and visiting individuals or crowds.  Each is done with an outcome in mind that is revealed as the gospel unfolds, but there is no doubt that Christ exhibits the ultimate humility by dwelling among us as God while simultaneously showing patience as He teaches us by being a servant.  Christ is the ultimate model of teaching. 

All that to say this:  Next week, we take a nice contingent of youth to camp to learn about Christ, Sunday through Friday morning.  That's a long time to learn and to have fun.  The staff will see how Christ-like we can be as we all live and dwell among one another for almost a full week.  The staff will teach and guide and perhaps the children who attend will teach us as well. 

Pray for our journey and the success of the youth camp.  Pray that Christ use these moments to grow our faith, youth and adult alike.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 7.5.17

Stephen Covey, noted author and speaker, once wrote on "True North." In his book, Principle-Centered Leadership (1992), Covey says, "Correct principles are like compasses: they are always pointing the way.  And if we know how to read them, we won't get lost, confused, or fooled by conflicting voices and values."  "True North" then is that concept of having those principles within ourselves, self-evident, that are natural laws that don't shift or change with time.

In Matthew 10, Christ says something that is disturbing and contradictory at face value with whom we identify our Savior: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.... Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

Wait a minute.  Isn't this the Jesus spoken of in Isaiah as "Wonderful Counselor,  Prince of Peace."  Isn't this the Jesus Linus talks about in "Peanuts Christmas" by quoting from Luke telling us to, "Fear not..." with the angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will among men?"   Now Jesus is saying He didn't come to bring peace?

Christ is telling us that He, and He alone, is our True North.  Mom and dad are our earthly mom and dad, but Christ should reign supreme in our hearts, and nothing, not mom, dad, brother, or sister, friend, acquaintance, sports offering, outside activity, or any other temptation, should come between us and our Savior.  This comes with a cost, the "cost of discipleship" as Dietrich Bonhoeffer will write, and it is potentially divisive, even among those we love here on earth.

We pray that we keep Christ, and Him crucified, as our True North.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, July 3, 2017

Devotion 7.4.17

Sadly, my family lost our Uncle Harold a couple of weeks ago.  Harold, who left high school to fight in WWII and returned to complete HS afterward.  Harold, who fought for Patton in the Battle of the Bulge.  Harold, who married my dad's sister and had five children, the youngest being my age.  Harold, who lived in Lake Wobegon, MN (or a town that name brings to mind), founded a business and worked at Hormel at the same time. Harold who rebuilt cars, including a Model A.  My memories of the 4th of July take place in this small Midwestern town with parades and fireworks, and Harold drove the Model A in the parade each year since he rebuilt it.  Harold was a fixture in our family and in the town. 

And so we have our traditions on a day like July 4.  Put the flag out.  Post some obligatory comment on Facebook with a flag and God bless America. Grill something.  Parade.  Fireworks.  Pool parties.  Picnics.  Tell our Aunt Geneveve that her potato salad we just tossed in the trash when she wasn't looking was simply delicious.  Or we agree to play horseshoes with our neighbor's children who are wilder than mustangs on the prairie only to find they throw at everything except the stake. There are other traditions as well.  We will lift up the traditional speeches and prayers (like ours in church last Sunday) in which we honor those who maintain our freedoms and keep us safe (military, police, firemen).

So, with all that, I hate to be the bearer of bad news or create a minor brouhaha via a devotional, but while I am grateful for the sacrifice our public servants make daily and for our military, the people who have the responsibility for our freedoms are us, the citizenry.  For a number of reasons that we needn't go into, it is a citizenry that maintains vigilance when it comes to freedom, setting watch fires (figuratively speaking) to ensure that the contract we've written (The Constitution) in which the governed consent to be governed is maintained.

Quite honestly, our prayer should be one of vigilance.  Our prayers should be for our freedoms to be not only kept, but that we vigilantly watch and stand on guard with sobriety to hold our freedoms in check.  The freedoms we cherish should be cherished within each new generation here or yet to come.  I'm not out on some rant (name your wing - right or left).  I'm just stating the obvious.

So, too, with our faith.  The job of maintaining and growing the faith lies with the body of believers, not just its called servants (pastors).  We, too, are to be vigilant in sharing that faith.  Hear the words of Paul as he leaves the church in Ephesus in the book of Acts:  "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."

We share the gospel in a world hostile to that gospel but in need of hearing it.  As we ask for God's Spirit to use us and guide us, we seek to take that gospel to the world, ever vigilant in our faith.  God has called us, the body of believers, to do so.  Our earthly prayer and our heavenly prayer, the two kingdoms, should be the same:  One of vigilance.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Devotion 7.3.17

I do not possess an entrepreneurial mind.  That's not to say I don't have business sense, but I'm not the guy who has an idea and fearlessly seizes the moment to gain investment money or spends money of his own to move the idea forward into an invention or an innovation that takes off.  Interestingly enough, the entrepreneur may not be good at running his own business.  Steven Jobs comes to mind because he got tossed at Apple early on and came back.  Steven Jobs was Apple, but he wasn't the one who had the business sense to run Apple.  He had the ideas.

The entrepreneur sees things that others do not see, and he has a certain tenacity to not really care how others feel about his vision.  The businessman may have a vision for growing a business, but he also has the capability of stabilizing and maintaining growth.  This has become a dirty word in society known as "management."  The idea of a bureaucracy (German borne and bread by the way, thank you Max Weber) was to create a system that would develop a certain level of consistency (originally borne in industry, not government).  In fact, there are studies that offer a considerable amount of data that what gets the business started isn't necessarily what grows the business.  Consequently, the entrepreneur who has the vision may be bought out and gone by the time the business is growing.

What's the have to do with faith?  Good question, but I observe this in our faith lives in this way.  God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) have the vision and the creation of faith and how it works in our lives.  Man, commissioned by Christ to grow disciples (Matthew 28), is largely responsible for leading and managing the church to fulfill the Great Commission (and the Holy Spirit as well).

How does man do?  The good news is I'm not God and cannot give an accurate score card on the successes and failures of the church on earth, but I do know what Christ said while he was here and what he did.  Interestingly, He didn't seek religious leaders of the day to lead His movement.  His disciples were a hodgepodge of fishermen, a doctor, a tax collector, a few family members, and eventually a man who hated the church (Paul).  That should be both comforting and frightening to us at the same time.  We are to go about the work of the church and sharing the gospel with those who do not know Jesus, but we are not experienced leaders of faith.  Yet, each of us in our own way should be about the mission of the church.

So, we've been given a commission from Christ in Matthew 28:  "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'”

We pray that as we go about the business of the church, that we hear Christ's words:  We are to go and make disciples of all nations;  we are to teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and we are to turn to Him when we need to because He is with us until the end of the age.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Devotion 6.29.17

How can we summarize the teachings in scripture?  If given a chance to summarize them in one statement, what would that be?  There are two occasions in which Christ is asked that.  In one, he turns the question back to the questioner which leads to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).  In another, Christ is asked again by a Pharisee the same question, "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22)

Luther uses the Matthew 22 passage to summarize the two tables of the 10 Commandments, as does Christ, but they point us to a good summary of the scripture in its entirety.  "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment." (Summary of the First Table) And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments."  Christ is quoting Deuteronomy 6 which is why his answer appears in quotes. 

Yet all of scripture tells us to put God first by focusing on Christ.  All of scripture also points us to share that love of Christ as the Holy Spirit works through us.  Sharing this love to all people (our neighbor) is also fulfilling Christ's commission for us to "go and make disciples of all nations."

We pray that we follow Christ, the fulfillment of the law on our behalf.  Christ made perfect the imperfect.  We pray that we share this with our neighbor, who truly is "all people."

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Devotion 6.28.17

I'm listening to a book that is remarkable in terms of its clarity of thought and presentation.  Unfortunately, it is earthy and street in language and in its title.  While I'm not ashamed to admit to reading it, I am aware that the use of the title and some of the language from the book is not worthy of a devotion which focuses our attention and our eyes on the cross of Christ.  Yet, conceptually, there are some ideas that are extremely interesting.

For example, the Chinese have a symbol which is called "yin-yang." You would recognize it if you saw it.  It's the black and white symbol that looks like two tadpoles swimming forming a perpetual circular motion.  It symbolizes life and that good and bad are in constant motion which creates energy which creates movement in life.  Do you know that there are entire professions that exist because of potentially bad things in life?  Police battle crime.  Firemen battle disastrous fires.  Therapists exist to help people work through problems.  There are hospitals, doctors, and all in the medical profession who exist to fight disease and death.  It's the paradox of life.  Evil exists and good exists to thwart evil, yet good will never rid life of evil.  There will be crime, disasters, death and disease.  So, the two exist together.  Unfortunately, Taoism leaves us right there.  Good and evil exist side by side. No solution. 

As I listened to the book, it struck me that this kind of thinking shouldn't be foreign to a Christian, and Martin Luther uses this in his summary of the 10 Commandments.  It's called "sin."  Sin entered God's creation via Satan through Adam and Eve's free will and perverted what God had created.  As Luther speaks of sin, he notes that sin entered the world by the fall of man (Genesis 3).  We are born into sin (original) and we commit sin (actual).  So, God eventually wrote the 10 Commandments to provide us a road map of how we are to behave as God's people, how we are to interact with one another, and for us as a measure of why we need to turn to God.  The 10 Commandments are a curb to serve as boundaries.  The commandments are a mirror to show us our sin.  The commandments are what a God-pleasing life looks like which directs us to Christ.  So, sin existed before the commandments and the commandments did not eliminate sin.  God and His creation exist with evil in His creation. 

Yet, God does provide a solution to sin, unlike the Chinese acknowledgement of good and evil.  John 3:16 says it simply, "For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  As Christians, we know evil is in the world and dwells within us.  As Christians, we also have the reassurance of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection which give us grace and mercy.  We praise God for forgiving us of our sin through His Son and we thank God for the gift of everlasting life through His Son. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, June 26, 2017

Devotion 6.27.17

My favorite story in the Old Testament is one that is a tragedy in the truest sense.  David, king of Israel, out on the roof of his palace, looking at all he has when he spots a woman.  You probably are familiar with the story.  Her name, he finds out, is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite who is a general in David's army.  David likes what he sees and seduces her and she becomes pregnant.  David, not to be outwitted by his own actions, puts in place a plot to get Uriah to think the child is his, but Uriah is a man of honor who thinks about his troops.  So, even though David gets him tipsy to send off to "lay with his wife," Uriah cannot. 

Fast forward to David getting aggravated at a loyal general who wants to go back to be with his troops.  "Okay, if you won't go for Plan A, then we'll go to Plan B, and I will give you a battle to fight in that no one will survive."  Uriah goes to battle and dies.  Bathsheba joins David (and the hundreds of other wives) in the house of David.  God sends Nathan to point out David's sins, and when Nathan uses the story of a wealthy man who took a poor man's sole lamb to slaughter and use for his own feast, David demands, "Send me that man!" to which Nathan says, "You are that man."  (2 Samuel 11).

Martin Luther has a familiar quote that if you are going to sin, "sin boldly"  (a sarcastic statement that means don't just sin in a timid way, stand up and just sin boldly if you are going to sin). David did just that all in one act.  Covet, adultery, lie, murder, place himself before God.  This from a man who had more than everything because he was "a man after God's own heart."  In the Tenth Commandment, God states that, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox o donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." 

David took what didn't belong to him, and in maybe not such bold ways, we do as well through sins of the heart.  Seeing someone in our neighbor's home and desiring it (sin). Christ gives us no wiggle room by expanding the definition of sin, but He does so for one simple reason:  To get us to turn to Him in all things. It is through Christ that we receive the forgiveness for our sin-filled lives.  As David looked to the promise of the coming Messiah, we look to Christ and receive that mercy and grace.  God forgave David, and God forgives us.

Pray for contentment, the kind of contentment that can only be found in Christ Jesus.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Devotion 6.26.17

So, I see something my neighbor has and suddenly I want one of my very own.  I have a house full of things that I obtained, quite legally, because I saw someone who had one.  "Got to have me one of them," I say to myself.  This kind of thinking drives our free market economy.  Our cars are financed for five years or so, even though we probably will trade them in every three years on average.  Our homes are financed for 30 years even though we move or refinance every seven (according to realtor information).  We had a garage sale recently and the big money items were two slightly used BBQ pits because I had replaced them with a new grill and a new smoker.  Judging from economic data, I'm not alone.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house," the Ninth Commandment tells us.  Yet we covet daily. As noted earlier, it is what drives our economy.  If we don't covet on our own, then society will put things in front of us that will cause us to covet.  I mean really, advertisements give us the new version of what I'm holding that is one-year-old may move my conditioned mind to replace that antique.

Am I condemning free market economies?  No, not at all.  Am I condemning people who have obtained a certain level of wealth.  Absolutely not.  A poor person can covet just as well as the middle income American in his 3/2/2 home with his 1.8 children and a wife.  And the average American can covet just as well as a man who has everything, like a very wealthy man.  It is a sin that blankets humanity and has since the fall of man.  What caused the fall?  Satan created a certain desire for us to be "like God" (we coveted our own Creator).

Solution?  "Not that I'm speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation to be content."  (Philippians 4) How do I obtain this kind of contentment?  Through our savior, Jesus Christ.  We turn to Christ and place our true needs in his hands - both our physical and spiritual needs.  Our prayer is simple, "Christ, help me to be content through my faith in you."  Amen.

Hope Men's Ministry 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Devotion 6.22.17

"So you'll never hear one of us repeating gossip, so you better be sure and listen close the first time."

That line was taken from an old "Hee-Haw" skit, in which the women were attending to tasks and telling each other the details of "things" going on in people's lives.  If the Fifth Commandment is the greatest weakness among men (lust), then the Eighth Commandment is certainly possibly the most violated commandment among all of us.  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," the commandment reads.

I found it interesting one day when I heard someone speaking about someone else.  Someone else noted he may be gossiping and he said, "If it's true, it's not gossip."  Interesting spin used to justify the act.  We have developed sophisticated logic to justify ourselves in such situations, but Luther is very clear in the catechism.  Aside from lying about or to our neighbor (the clear forbidden action in this commandment) Luther writes this, "God forbids us to betray our neighbor, that is, to reveal our neighbor's secrets, and God forbids us to slander our neighbor or hurt our neighbor's reputation."  We are told specifically in scripture to speak directly to our neighbor in those times when we may have issues, such as Matthew 18, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone."  James 4 also tells us, "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers."  Finally, in Luke 6, Christ says, "Judge not, and you will not be judged.  Condemn not, and you will not be condemned."

So, true or false, fact or fiction, the Eighth Commandment is fairly clear on what we share about someone.  Luther says that when we speak of someone, we should put the best construct on it.  We should build up our neighbor, and we should put the best meaning on everything.  In short, that old adage we all learn holds true, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all."

Paul says it this way, and this is our prayer:  "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:7)  That is our prayer, to love one another in all we say or do. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Devotion 6.21.17

So, I bought a new pellet grill smoker for my wife.  Yes, I thought it was the perfect Mother's Day gift, and it has all the bells and whistles on it.  It even has, get this, wifi connectivity, so my wife can sit in the living room and monitor the progress of the meat being smoked from her iPhone! Crazy, isn't it?  It's almost as though it is the perfect gift for the man who has everything, which I do, which is why I bought it for my wife. Of course, when she rejected the gift outright on Mother's Day, I had no choice but to take it as my own.  It was the only way to rectify the situation. What a waste of a perfectly good pellet grill smoker with wifi and an app on the iPhone (or android) in which I can sit myself in a chair and never get our of it while the brisket smokes. 

What's this have to do with the Seventh Commandment you may ask?  "You shall not steal." Well, in reading the explanatory notes of "What does this mean?", it is all right there in front of us.  Don't take what's not yours via robbery, theft, or "dishonest ways of getting things." So, I took our money and bought a smoker, not really for my wife, but in the guise of buying it for her for Mother's Day, and bought it for myself.

Once again we see that Luther, through Christ's own words, takes a physical act (in modern day, we also can steal without touching anything via identity theft, information theft online and other types of "skimming" as they call it, so it isn't all physical) and places the actual intent, a matter of the heart, at the heart of the sin when he instructs us to not go about getting something dishonestly.  In my case, taking our money and using it for alternative purposes.

I have only one manner of redemption in this case (after getting Cindy her very own Mother's Day gift) and that is to take this matter to Christ and confess my sin.  In a serious way, we should all examine our lives as we live in a very materialistic world and begin to see how the commandments overlap.  Lying, stealing, wanting things that we can neither afford or need (coveting).  In essence, going neck deep into sin to obtain stuff we didn't need because, like the shiny lure in the water that attracts the fish, we had to have it until it snagged us and dragged us down.

We go to Christ and ask Him to sustain our lives and to help us faithfully and honestly get what we need.  We thank God for what we have and ask that we use a measure of faith and thought in God-pleasing ways when we seek to gain things we want.  We ask for forgiveness when our lusts of our flesh cause us to seek those things we desire but really shouldn't have.  We thank God for the mercy and grace He gives us when we take our eyes off of Him and turn to our material world for gratification.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, June 19, 2017

Devotion 6.20.17

Football is the sport that operates in a separate stratosphere.  The NFL has significant issues, many off-field issues, such as spousal or partner abuse and substance issues.  It also has on-field issues such as head injuries caused by massive men at increasingly higher speeds colliding with one another, and last year (a political year), we enjoyed seeing men take a knee during the National Anthem.  Logically then, when the NFL owners met this past spring, they said they were going to allow end-zone celebrations.  It all makes sense to someone deep in the tax-free NFL offices (a multi-billion dollar industry).

Another peculiarity in this sport is the definition of a score.  In baseball, the runner crosses the plate and has to touch home plate.  In basketball, the ball must go through the hoop.  In hockey and soccer, the puck or ball goes into the net.  In football?  The ball must break the "plane."  So, per NFL specs, cameras have been placed at various angles in and around the end-zone to see if the ball "breaks the plane."  If in the end-zone, the cameras capture how many feet were in if a catch is made when the back or receiver is leaving the end-zone (in which the ball may not be actually "in") but his feet were.  So, you can score ball in, feet out OR you can score feet in, ball out.  Again, this all makes sense to someone deep in the tax-free NFL offices (actually, I think last year they voluntarily agreed to a limited tax of some sort because of the bad PR that issue generated). 

So, the lines in football are blurred by the plane issue creating a nice shade of gray for the football fan.  Did he score or didn't he?  Did he get the first down or didn't he?  It's not as black and white as it may seem.  It is a nice shade of gray.  There are some who thrive in the gray zone of life, like the commentators reviewing these calls as they are being considered, or some in life who operate well in gray. 

So to the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery."  Simple, straight-forward.  Don't stray when you are married.  Right?  Some take it even further, not just stray, but just don't have sex with another woman when you're married.  Sex is broad category of course, so just don't have intercourse with another woman when you're married, and you don't violate this commandment, right?  In the Catechism, Luther eliminates a great deal of gray by restating Christ's redefining adultery in the Sermon on the Mount.  "God requires us to avoid all temptations to sexual sin," writes Luther, reflecting Christ's, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

We are men in a men's ministry and can talk honestly at this point.  This is the greatest weakness for men in a world that uses images and imagery to arouse the man via magazine covers for sports all the way through graphic sexual images in media designed to gratify our lusts.  It is there.  It is right in front of us all the time.  Today, the internet has exploded the opportunity to stray and violate not just a physical sin, but a sin of the heart as Christ describes it. Yet we neglect this obvious temptation in our discussions and in our devotions.  These temptations occur before and during marriage, the sole estate in which sex is permissible as the Catechism views it through the lens of scripture. 

We pray in earnest the God deliver us from these temptations.  We also pray that the church is a place in which this sin and these temptations can be discussed in honest discussions.  We pray for all men who face temptation or are in a spiritual struggle with this.  Satan finds our weaknesses and exploits them, but as Paul writes, "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.... For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthian 12)  We pray God uses our weakness to make us strong.

Hope Men's Ministry