Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Devotion 6.1.17

Today we "Ask the Pastor," where each week, you may submit a question for Pastor Hiner to answer.  The purpose of this is two-fold:  to learn more about our faith as well as become men of God in all of our callings - husband, father, brother, son, employee, and servant of God. 

This week's question is this:  "I'm a man attempting to be a man of God and want to start reading the Bible more to be a better man, father, husband, friend, and/or disciple of Christ.  What do you recommend as a path to start learning scripture better?"

Pastor Hiner answers:
There is a prayer that is prayed in many church bodies, “Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

I love this prayer because it reminds me of two things.  One that we don’t simply open up the good book occasionally, perhaps out of a sense of obligation, but rather that we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words of that book.  I don’t know about you but inwardly digesting something is much more than the simple occasional reading.  This Bible is a gift from God written for our benefit.  It is foolish to not take advantage of this gift. 

The second thing is that the Bible was written for our learning so that we may hold onto the hope we have in Jesus.  It is more than a book simply for entertainment, but it is a book meant to guide our lives and give instructions to faith. 

Therefore, the best answer I can come up with is this:  Start!  The path to start learning scripture better is starting.  That is the first challenge to overcome.  Two things I always mess up when exercising: the first is starting; and, the second is making it work for me.  Therefore, the greatest obstacle is simply starting.  If you open up your Bible and only read 3 verses before falling asleep, at least you read 3 verses you wouldn’t have if you never started.  Just start somewhere.  Then, like in exercising, make it work for you.  If a plan helps to hold you accountable, then make up a plan or Google a plan.  There are thousands of options online.  If I tell myself I am going to exercise 2 hours a day six days a week.  I get discouraged because I don’t make my goals.  But if I simply do what works for me and do it, then I find more success.  Find a plan, then start.  If you get to a point that is boring and you are falling asleep too much, skip it.  If you are at a part that is speaking to you, spend a week on it reading it over and over.  The only way you can fail is not doing it at all.   

Have a question for Pastor Hiner.  Submit it to .  We will publish one question each Thursday.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Devotion 5.31.17

When I was an administrator, early in that part of my career, I found policy to be something that was somewhat of an obstacle.  To rely on policy to make professional decisions, in my mind, took away from the very essence of "professionalism."  There were legalists, those who knew policy hook, line, and sinker, and their actions tended to reinforce my opinion of people who lived, breathed, and digested policy.  Then one day a man named Gordon Anderson came into my life.  Gordon, a retired superintendent from a large district in Houston, became something of a mentor to me.  He shared an article he had written to beginning administrators a few years before we met, and in it, he said this, "Learn the laws and policies you are going to enforce or follow.  There is nothing worse than being beaten by the rules from someone because they knew the rules better than you."

That's one of those moments in which that light came on and I understood more clearly the need to learn policy, but not to rely on it as an arbiter of decisions I might make.  I would still keep the child in mind, act in his or her best interest, but I would also do so within the framework of policy in order to not have to draw back a decision. 

So, what's the purpose of the "Law" in Scripture?  I've seen a few signs around town at some churches that say, "We aren't legalistic.  We follow the Gospel."  I understand that sentiment, but the law of God is real and present in Scripture, which we believe to be infallible.  Martin Luther asks this, "What basic distinction must we keep in mind in order to understand the Bible?"  His answer, "We must sharply distinguish between the Law and the Gospel."  The Law shows us our sin, provides that "curb" for our human behavior, and directs us to the cross of Christ or the Gospel, in which God gives forgiveness, faith, and life.  Our Good Works without Christ are just that, only actions, but through Christ, our works become God pleasing.  The Law is best summed up this way, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.... You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12)  The Gospel is summed up best in this manner, "God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

The Bible, in its entirety, is God's Word.  All roads in the Bible point to Christ, the Old and New Testament.  The Law points us to the need for Christ's Gospel.  We pray we learn to use the lens of Christ when we read all Scripture and that we learn to sharply distinguish Law from Gospel as we reach out to the lost and strengthen our own faith lives.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, May 29, 2017

Devotion 5.30.17

Did you know that the reason the head coach in baseball is called the manager goes back to its early history?  The player was designated as a manager as baseball "clubs" grew (they are still referred to as "ball clubs" but no longer organize around this concept).  Clubs would organize and the manager was responsible for organizing the team, seeing to it that there were players for the "club," and setting a schedule. 

Why is the Bible referred to as "Holy Scripture?"  According to Martin Luther, in answer to the question he poses, "Why do we call the Bible the Holy Scripture?", it is because we believe the Holy Spirit gave to His chosen writers the thoughts that they expressed and the words they wrote.  So, it is literally a "holy script" from God, in language we understand, and one in which the key for the correct understanding of the Bible is Christ. "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." (2 Tim 3:16 - 17)  We learn the scripture because, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about Me." (John 5:39)

Our faith comes from the Spirit through the Word of God and gives us our salvation.  (Faith Alone. Scripture Alone. Grace Alone.).  The key to this faith is Christ.  To read and learn the Holy Scripture is to learn more about our savior, Jesus Christ.  They key as a spiritual leader of your home and as someone seeking to learn more about Christ is to be in God's Word.  Pray that we take time each day to be in His Word.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Devotion 5.29.17

If you are a true fan of baseball, you are inherently an unhappy person because you possess a skill to analyze the sublime during the course of a game.  True fans know the averages and the aspects of the game that hold their attention.  It's not the races around the base paths by the hotdog, the mustard, and the ketchup that holds a baseball fans attention.  Those, in fact, deter from the true game for the fan.  Instead, it's the numbers and figures and strategy that hold their attention. So, the fan is aggravated by the constant need of John Q. Average who wants a game that produces more runs, has more activity around the game and between innings, and other such nonsense.  I'm a true fan.  You just want a watered down game that holds the attention of a gnat because you can't sit in your seat for three hours and enjoy true baseball.

We tend to hold faith in the same light.  My faith is a truer faith than yours because those things we adhere to are much more imbedded in scripture than yours.  My faith is truer than yours because my walk is clearly more aligned with God's will than yours because people of your faith don't adhere to the values and principles people of our faith do.

I do get a smile on my face when I pass a church that declares itself free from religion.  If more than one person is gathered in the midst of that body, they have a body of beliefs.  If they teach scripture, they have to arrive at a meaning from the passage.  Once there, they have an interpretation that is reflective of a specific teaching, which may go back hundreds if not over a thousand years, or one that is recent, but still, it becomes a part of what the church teaches which is, in truth, a doctrine.  They have unwittingly created a religion by declaring themselves free from religion.

However, the best start for faith is to learn what your church teaches.  As a spiritual leader in the household or a person learning about faith individually, what is it that your church "confesses" (teaches)?  For Lutherans, we turn to Luther's Small Catechism, which he wrote specifically for home instruction for children from parents and as a summary of faith for pastors in the fields in the 1500s.   In his introduction, he begins by asking, "What is Christianity?"  Luther simply answers, "Christianity is the life and salvation God has given in and through Jesus Christ."  Luther cites several passages for this including John 14:6:  "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me;" and, John 17: 3, "This is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

The gospel message is at the heart of what we believe.  We pray that we, or people of any other faith within Christianity, never lose sight of that simple message.  We also pray that people who don't know Jesus Christ (from faiths not Christian or those who don't have a belief) learn about the love and forgiveness and grace that He brings.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Devotion 5.17.17

The Yankees celebrated Derek Jeter Sunday night by retiring his number 2 jersey and placing it into Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees are a team you either like or dislike with no in between.  My observation about people who openly dislike teams or talk smack is that they tend to be people who are openly violating a commandment, that of coveting (neighbor's servants, etc).  In this case, it would be a man's baseball team.  What is it they covet?  The history of the team, the championships, the prominence, the stature and status of the team (all this from a guy who really doesn't follow New York - Yankees in this case).

Yet the Yankees have a remarkable way of using their past to market the team.  You aren't just a part of the here and now, you are a part of history.  Baseball, being a sport that speaks in current terms about its past, owes much of the conversation to former Yankees - Ruth, Gehrig, Berra, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson, Jeter.  Those are name off the top of my head, and I don't follow the Yankees as I mentioned earlier.  Yet I've read a number of books about the game of baseball, and you cannot escape the New York Yankees place in the history of the game.  And we can't go through a day without quoting Yogi Berra at least once.  So to Jeter's night, building on their recent past to place his name in a ring of honor among the other greats who have played the game.  Jeter, a phenomenal player and very likable guy, will seal his seat in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot no doubt.

What role does the history of the church play in faith?  Looking at the articles of faith that we have in our various brands of Christian faith, most have a history with writers and theologians who gave us points of view about scripture and its meaning in our lives.  In our own case, people like Augustine, Luther, Melancthon,  and more recently Bohnhoeffer and people like C.S. Lewis are but a few examples of people who wrote on faith.  Does this history provide us with a clarifying lens of scripture?  In many ways, we look for consistencies in the dialogue and alignment with scripture to deepen our understanding of faith.  In that manner, we don't go off on tangents about faith based on one writer who analyzes on passage and creates an entire theology or a group of people who create a faith that has little substance with the true Word of God and those who've written throughout history about the Word of God.

Paul says it this way:  "Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful schemes.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself." (Ephesians 4:13 - 15)

Faith alone.  Grace alone.  Scripture alone.  Those words spoken long ago put many in danger for their lives because these words challenged the teachings (errant) of the day, yet such a simple concept needed to be stated and clarified due to the teachings that were present at the time. So, does our history clarify our present and is it worth knowing in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past? 

Pray that we are in the Word and that our simple faith in Christ give us salvation.  Pray that as we broaden and deepen our understanding of God's Word and its meaning in our lives, we hold to truths that give us clarification and further understanding, but that these truths be aligned with God's Word. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, May 15, 2017

Devotion 5.16.17

I had the opportunity to attend a "theological conference" in Austin recently put on by our district - the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Texas District.  The theme of the conference was "True Concord." The reason for its timing was to review the documents of faith that were written and developed in the 1500s that gave rise to a movement we refer to commonly as the Reformation.  The key speakers at the conference were Dr. Robert Kolb - Concordia Seminary, St. Louis and Dr. Zeigler - Ft. Wayne Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Indiana (both LCMS seminaries).  Dr. Kolb is considered the foremost expert on the book now known as The Book of Concord, a compilation of theological documents written most notably by Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon in the 1500s. 

The lectures were enlightening even though I was one layperson in a sea (180 participants) of pastors with degrees and advanced degrees in theology.  I would liken it to attending a conference led by key history professors covering the time of the United States between the Revolution and the founding of the nation, in which they discussed the founding documents in depth, including the Federalist Papers.  Much of what they talked about I would know the names of the participants and the times, but much of what they discussed , especially in depth analysis of the Federalist Papers, would be challenging.

Dr. Kolb was particularly engaging because he was a very good deliverer in the Q and A format, taking the learner's question and forming it as part of his answer in humorous and enlightening ways.  For example, when one participant asked him a question, he answered, "I'm going to answer the question I wanted you to ask, not the one you asked."

Dr. Kolb, however, had one comment that I wrote down that was profound and something for each of us to consider:  "Luther was troubled by religious good works as opposed to ethical good works." Think about that as we near the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October, which made each of you reading this regardless of your brand of Christianity possible.  Luther was troubled, deeply troubled, by the good works imposed by leaders of faith that had little or no substantive support in scripture.  Ethical good works?  You do it because it's the right thing to do, but you don't view it as a work that will gain you access into God's favor.  Religious good works?  You feel the need to do it because you've been led, either by your own thinking or by someone else's teaching, into believing it needs to be done to gain access to God's favor.

"They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger," Christ said of the religious leaders of the day, specifically the Pharisees.  (Matthew 23) From this desire to reform came a simple phrase:  Faith alone.  Grace alone.  Scripture alone.

We pray that as people of faith, we focus on God's Word as the primary source of those beliefs we articulate, and that those articles of faith we adhere to are based on scripture.  We also pray that we, and those we reach out to who do not know the gospel, are not burdened by any work other than knowing that faith and grace go hand-in-hand. "For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)  Nothing we do can gain access to God's favor, only faith in his Son Jesus Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Devotion 5.15.17

I had a friend a long time back, early in my career, who pursued the principalship around the same time I did.  We had studied together, and he was an intimidating figure in terms of his overwhelming intelligence.  His biggest problem however was himself. To make matters worse, he was very competitive and didn't handle rejection well.  He placed himself on committees and in some cases demanded to be considered for positions of leadership, rather than waiting to be asked.  What made it awkward was no one really liked working with him.

Imagine, then, the strain on our relationship when I was asked to move into administration well before he was (both home grown products of the district to boot).  I was 10 years his younger, and I had only been in the classroom for about five years.  He agonized aloud to me after I was selected to become an assistant principal about his perception that people didn't recognize his potential.  It was, in a word, difficult.  I said little other than maybe one day he would get his shot. 

Jesus is placed in that situation when the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, comes to him and kneels before him and asks him to consider that one son sit at His left and the other at His right.  "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand, and the other at your left, in your kingdom."  (Matthew 20:20 and 21)  Kneel before Christ out of humility and tell him to appoint her sons as his favored counsel because, hey, he's clearly moving up in this world.  Christ says she doesn't know what she's asking and that they don't know if they can drink from the cup he's to drink from.  James and John insist they can, so Christ says, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and left hand is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." They continue to be indignant, indicating they truly do not understand what they are asking, and Christ finally says the leaders of the Gentiles exert great authority over their people;  however, "It shall not be so among you.  Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (26 - 28)

Jesus leads by serving.  We learn that those who are great leaders among us are those who understand that critical role, that of service.  We trust those in our midst who are willing to get dirty with the rest of us.  Christ showed beyond that with His love that He was willing to die for us, dirty as we are.

Pray that we learn from Christ the role of service as we seek to teach and share the message of the good news of Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Devotion 5.10.17

"The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry." This was the line from a poem, "The Mouse," by Robert Burns that John Steinbeck later adapted to write Of Mice and Men.  In looking up the quote, American Heritage notes that in the old English, Burns wrote, "The best laid schemes o' mice and men...."

Interesting difference in the word choices.  Is it "plans" or is it "schemes?" The difference would infer motive.  Are you planning or are you scheming?  Planning drives much of our lives from crops to plant, to school activity, and to formal business or public organization short- and long-range goals.  When does a plan become a scheme?

In baseball, the Astros were bought and traded off all the major talent in what was called a plan to rebuild the organization, philosophically and in terms of strategy.  The team that made it to the World Series was gone, and an era of losing, as announced by the new ownership, would eventually blossom into a contender ("give us five years" was the phrase).  Metrics (statistics) were in, and the old "gut instinct" way of baseball was out, adapted from the Oakland Athletics, which was covered well in Michael Lewis' Moneyball.  The problem is the Athletics (A's) have never made the pure metrics system work, so the Astros purposely brought in St. Louis management to couple the "metrics" approach with the development of a great farm system.  In other words, it was all done as part of a plan, goals and strategies, the outcome of which is still developing. If successful, then the plans worked.  If not, writers will note the schemes of the people in baseball to just market a team and not actually win.

As we grow and develop as believers, do you ever stop to think that your growth and development is planned and not accidental? "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'Plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11)  If you couple that with Ephesians 2:10, you see a pattern, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."  Our lives may not be scripted, but God has plans for us as a body of believers, and for us as his disciples, growing and learning each day.  Learning to not resist those plans is part of the "forging" we desire from God.

Pray that we have an open heart to God's will and that the Spirit move us into action as we grow, learn, and witness about Christ and the hope that He gives.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, May 8, 2017

Devotion 5.9.17

"Be careful what you ask for because you may get it" is a sentiment I've heard expressed before.  As a follower of Christ, I'd add to my fellow believers, "When you ask God to shape you and let you learn from something, take note of what you just asked."

During our Men's Retreat under the title of "Forged," we focused on the idea of "sharpening" under the Proverb "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (27:17).  We like the idea of sharpening, being shaped and formed, but think about the process, which was dramatized for us as our leader actually built a smelter and brought iron and steel to forge as we learned.  Forging takes three things:  oxygen, fuel, and high heat.  The oxygen was pumped into the coal by a make-shift fan developed to feed the burning coal oxygen.  This produced heat in excess of 1500 degrees and allowed our leader to take a piece of iron, beat it, shape it, re-shape it, and beat it again until it finally became a door knocker (ask, seek, knock).

Sometimes in life we feel that way.  We feel heat, to a degree, and ask God, "What are you trying to tell me?" (Spoiler alert:  He's always telling us through various episodes in our lives to turn to Him, not some of the time or once in a while, but turn to Him in all we do.)  This shaping and sharpening is done for a purpose, to prepare us for our own witness as believers to one another and to a world that does not know Christ.  In my own life, it has been: a father who suffered and died from dementia, most likely Alzheimer's; a mom who had a stroke and died shortly after; children and all the joys they can bring as well as the sorrows; working as an public education administrator; learning the ins and outs of marriage with a forgiving wife; and finally my own stupidity.  It isn't just unpleasant at times, but it is downright hard - high heat with oxygen feeding the fuel source to make me "shapable." All of that adds up to being able to listen to others as they go through similar experiences or reaching out to someone who is hurting and suffering to a degree.  My witness is my own life and the hope given to me when things seem hopeless through faith in Christ Jesus.  My witness is also the joys in life and those blessings Christ has bestowed upon me.

What's the shaping God has given you?  What does that shaping and sharpening enable you to do?

We thank God for our present sufferings as Paul notes in Romans 5:1 - 5, because that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope which does not disappoint us because of the love God has poured out on us through His Holy Spirit.  The ultimate shaping took place by a man who had no blame or no sin as he was beaten and punished for our sins, ultimately to His own death on the cross.  By rising, He gives us that hope we need.

So, pray that you are given the ability to use the shaping you endure to tell others the good news of Christ, and that it enable you to minister to those when the opportunity arises.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Devotion 5.8.17

Have you ever been in a storm?  Not a thunderstorm on a lazy afternoon kind of storm, but rather a hurricane kind of storm.  Driving wind, rain, small tornadoes that drop as the hurricane moves onto land.  Living on the coast, I had the privilege of "riding out" many hurricanes, but I have to confess we rode out all of them on the land.  One summer I was working on the port and a hurricane was bearing down on us, looking as though it would make a direct hit on Houston.  The day before the hurricane was "hurricane prep:"  anchoring down cranes, anchoring any item that was small or light enough to be tossed about in the 70+ mile per hour winds predicted (or higher), storing items, and cabling off barges, tug boats, and a few yachts that had pulled up that belonged to the "higher ups" at Brown and Root.

I am guessing that a storm at sea of that level would be "harrowing."  Harrowing is a step beyond "frightening" in my mind as it expresses fear, exacerbation and lament.  As Gordon Lightfoot wrote in his song "Edmund Fitzgerald," a song about an iron ore ship that sank on Lake Superior, "Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"  That kind of fear caused by gales which are lore to the sea veterans on Lake Superior in November.

Psalm 107 speaks of this very fear and was used during the Men's Retreat recently, as we spoke of the means that God uses to create a right attitude in those who profess faith:

"Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
    his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
    which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
    and were at their wits' end.]
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!"

Waves high enough to reach the heavens and then take you down to the depths of the sea, melting your courage away until you remember to turn to God.  God shapes us to be His disciples through a variety of methods, but that shaping creates that attitude within us to say, "Thy will be done."  Not, "Thy will be done, mostly," or "Thy will be done, almost all the way, but I have room for my own interpretation," but rather, "Thy will be done."

Jesus sleeps during a storm that has arisen on a voyage across the sea with his disciples, and they melt in fear until He awakens and commands the storm to be quiet (Mark 4).  What storms is God using in my life to turn me to Him?  What storms is He using in yours?  This shaping turns us to Christ who is there to quiet the storms in our lives.  Pray we turn to Christ in the calm as well as in the storm to seek His guidance to calm our storms and relieve our fears.

Hope Men's Ministry