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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Devotion 6.18.17

I have, and you have in your lifetime,  met people who believe they have no sin.  Oh? you ask.  Yes, and they say things like this:  "Well, I may not be perfect, but at least I've never...."  That is called meeting a level you believe to be the letter of the law but failing to understand the spirit of the law.  It is always easy to look at the poor slob next door and say, "Thank God I'm not like that," and not realize you are acting out the parable from Christ about the Pharisee thanking God for being himself and not like "other men." (Luke 18)  Christ states emphatically that the more worthy prayer was the tax collector's prayer, unable to even look to heaven, asking, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." (v 13)  Christ states, "I tell you that this man, rather than the other man, went home justified before God." (v 14)

Yet we go on in our lives full of piety and thankful that we are who we are and not like those "other men."  That's a sad statement from the very confession we use from 1 John, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."  Paul notes in Romans 5, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned - for before the law was given, sin was in the world.  But sin is not taken into account when there is no law."  The law gives us measure of our sins, but sin existed before the law.  We know we all sin, so to say otherwise is deceiving ourselves and probably denying Christ as the light in this world who frees us from sin, Satan and death.

So, when we read the Fifth Commandment, "You shall not murder," we dust our hands and say, "Well, at least I've never done that."  "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement," (Matthew 5:21) is Christ's response to the subject of the Fifth Commandment.  In essence, the violation of a commandment is what is on our heart, not in our actions.  Have I physically killed someone?  No.  Have I violated this commandment?  Absolutely. Is one better than the other or worse?  No, not in God's eyes.

Luther asks what God requires of us in this commandment, and surprisingly, it isn't that He expects us not to kill, rather, "We should help and support our neighbor in every bodily need, and we should be merciful, kind, and forgiving toward our neighbor.  Likewise, we should avoid tempting our neighbor in acts of self-destruction (excess in drinking, use of drugs, etc.)."  Interesting, Luther doesn't mention not taking life (he does in the definition of murder in the various forms of the taking of life), but rather God expects us to "love our neighbor." 

We pray that we are honest with our own hearts and examine our own lives honestly.  We pray that we take those sins of the heart, capable of violating the commandment in the same way a heinous earthly crime might, to our Lord Jesus Christ, seeking His forgiveness and grace.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Devotion 6.16.17

It is fitting that the Friday before Father's Day we have the opportunity to look at the 4th Commandment beginning the Second Table of the Ten Commandments.  The entire Men's Ministry at Hope Lutheran Church and School, and probably other churches if yours has a ministry for men, was intended to create men of Christ, dedicated to uniting in fellowship around the Word through growing to become the men Christ desires us to be in service to Christ, the church, our families, our neighbors, and the entire community, believers and non-believers alike.  The First Table defines our relationship to God, and the Second Table defines our relationships here on earth, beginning with our primary figures in our lives, our parents.

It's interesting to note that God speaks to us in the First Table and places Himself at the top of our priorities:  "You shall have no other gods;" and, then on the Second Table, He places our parents at the top of our priorities:  "Honor your father and your mother."  In all we do, we place God first in our lives.  In all we do on earth, our parents begin us on our path to do just that.  As fathers, we are the primary spiritual driver in the family.  Hebrews 12 speaks to this as the author notes that we have all had fathers who disciplined us, all the more reason to receive the discipline of our Father for our spirit and eternal life.  The Catechism notes Proverbs 22 as it says, "Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old."

We pray that we devote ourselves to better understanding God's expectations for us in our lives.  We pray that we read, learn, and digest God's Word and its meaning for us as men of God and as husbands and fathers, a role given as a role of responsibility.  We pray that we are there for others who need that fatherly figure in their lives with their own father possibly not being there for them.

Have a blessed Father's Day this Sunday.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Devotion 6.15.17

Why do the commandments on my wall in the house look different from the ones in my church (and in the catechism)?

This is one of those little things that annoys me but it really shouldn’t.  It really is just a matter of tradition.  In the end, I would encourage you to teach it in the tradition in which we practice and worship.  Some church bodies number the 10 commandments differently.   Below is a list of “all” the commandments and if you read them you will notice there are 11.

  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an image
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
  5. Honor your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house
  11. You shall not covet your neighbors wife, or manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to you neighbor.

Some traditions combine 1 and 2 as one commandment (as we Lutherans do) and others combine 10 and 11 (we Lutherans separate).  The debate can go on and has gone on even going back to the 3rd century.  The debate is even more complicated than just the two simple suggestions here.  Some Jewish traditions consider the 1st commandment to be what we call the preface, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  In the end, does it matter?  Not really.  Different traditions have their different ways.  I believe it would be easier to simply say we have 11, but that would mean changing a lot of books and history, including the Bible which refers to their being 10.  In the end, I don’t believe one way is right and the other wrong.  Though it is annoying.  But here is a little further explanation as to why we number the way we do.

Simply put, we number it the way we do because that is how it was numbered in the time of the Reformation. In fact it was Saint Augustine who numbered it this way, to which Luther was an Augustinian monk before the reformation.  Therefore still today Catholic and Lutheran churches follow the same numbering. 

What about the Bible?  Well, the Bible doesn’t help us much here.  We would say that the #2 above is simply epexegetical to meaning "it is further explaining."  But when you read the 10 commandments in Deuteronomy 5 with #10 and 11, there is a different word used for coveting wife and coveting everything else, therefore we separate them.  But the 10 commandments account in Exodus 20 do not have as clear a distinction.   It’s also important that when reading we remember that the verse numbering and paragraph breaks as they are were added by contemporary scholars, not part of the original text.  Therefore, their biases often are seen in numbering and break decisions. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Devotion 6.14.17

If you could summarize all of life down to one statement, what would that be? Would it be a serious statement coming from some deep philosophical vein?  Would it be some substantive, quantitative voice of rational thought about the interaction of all elements that comprise life?  Would it be something off-the-wall like a Yogi Berra statement, such as, "Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good too."

There are two tables to the Ten Commandments, and the first table confirms our relationship with God.  No other gods, name in vain, and Sabbath Day.  God states his commands for how we are to revere, honor, speak of, interact with, and in all hold Him in awe, fear, and love.  As Christians, these commands speak to us in terms of what separates us from, as they did with Israel in the Old Testament.  They are commands, but they also speak to how God's people are to "be."  With Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection giving us eternal life, our commitment changes to following the commands as a response to God's love, knowing that even when we stumble, we are forgiven.

How do we best sum up the First Table which contains the three commandments between us and our Lord?  Christ said it this way in Matthew:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (22:37)  That's a perfect summary given by the only person to walk perfectly though life.  We pray that we do at all times and in all places keep our hearts and minds on Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, June 12, 2017

Devotion 6.13.17

To be a fan of the game of baseball, do you need to actually attend the game in the ball park?  The answer is no.  First, who can afford to?  Secondly, baseball, like other sports, maps out the fan base and you find many fans in areas hundreds of miles from a ball park, which means a fan base is built on radio, television, and news.  In my childhood, most days were spent reading about the game in the newspaper and recapping every aspect in the box score in the Houston Chronicle.  Today finds me watching the game on television some, listening via the MLB app mostly, and reading and recapping the three teams I follow via the MLB app each day.  I am a fan of the game, follow three teams, and yet I rarely go to a game in person.

So, can you be a Christian and not attend worship?  In reading about the Third Commandment in the Small Catechism, and in talking to pastors from various faith backgrounds (not all Lutherans), I still like our Pastor's rules when it comes to faith:  God is God;  I'm not God; let God be God.  Yet, the unanimous viewpoint of those who study and become pastors is you need to be in worship with the Body of Christ to really be a practicing Christian (so much for the "I can be a Christian and be with God while fishing" argument I used to put forth).

Yet in our fast-paced, 24/7/365 society where kids' activities, our activities, and routines dictate schedule, we find ourselves often ignoring or looking past the Third Commandment of "keeping the Sabbath Day holy" (soccer especially took Sundays away from this family with tournaments in far away places...mainly because we let it I suppose).  Luther is clear on this though:  "God requires Christians to worship together" citing Acts 2 ("they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers") and Hebrews 10 ("not neglecting to meet together").  He also notes that God doesn't specify a day (Romans 14:5-6) since, as was noted yesterday, all days belong to Christ, but that the church observes Sunday because that is when Christ rose. 

Worship is an integral part of our faith, not because it is commanded any longer, but as a response to God's love through His Son's suffering, death, and resurrection.  It is where we pray as the body of believers, confess our sins and hear the forgiveness of those sins, sing hymns, hear God's Word, and receive the Sacraments.  While we can appreciate God's creation and be with God, we are to also be with the body of believers regularly. 

Pray that we engage in formal worship routinely and that we worship our God in those times.  Pray that we do so out of respect and in response to the love God has shown us through His Son's sacrifice for us. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Devotion 6.12.17

"Downton Abbey" was a show on PBS that became very popular in the US as viewers found themselves enthralled with an aristocratic family in late-19th, early 20th century England.  During one episode, the matriarch of the family becomes upset when one of her granddaughters  becomes engaged to a "common" man, a doctor.  The family engages in a conversation during which they talked about the fact that common people observe "weekends."  "What's a weekend?" the matriarch asks.

Such is aristocratic snobbery I suppose.  However, western cultures do observe "weekends."  The idea that a five-day work week is capped off with two days off.  We do find the roots of this idea in scripture when, at the end of creation, God rested on the seventh day. "And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." (Genesis 2:2-3)

So to our Third Commandment when God formalized how God's people are to live with the commandments.  "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy."  The Small Catechism written by Martin Luther examines this commandment from a various aspects, but as he writes, all laws point to Christ.  The idea of Christ fulfilling the law changes the legality of the idea of a "Sabbath" to an idea of every day being one in which we honor Christ.  Tradition moved the actual day to the day that Christ rose from the dead which puts the Christian "Sabbath" on Sunday. 

The Lutheran Study Bible uses this same frame of reference with a brief prayer after the explanatory note on God's day of rest, the Sabbath Day, after creation.  That prayer is brief but fitting for this devotion, "We praise You, O Lord, for the day of rest that our bodies need.  We exalt you, O Christ, for the eternal rest that you have won for us!  Amen."

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Devotion 6.8.17

Today's "Ask the Pastor," My daughter was told by another student in school that because we are Lutheran, our baptisms don't "count" because we baptize babies.  How should I respond?

Believe it or not, this is a situation that comes up frequently especially since I have moved to Lubbock, where most Christians are from Church of Christ, Baptist, and Non-Denominational backgrounds.  These backgrounds are Christian ones, but they do not acknowledge infant baptism, and most would even ask you to be re-baptized if you were to move to their church.  So, how do you respond?

I personally think teaching is the best response. Not so your child has ammunition in which to combat the next person that questions him/her, but so that he or she is secure in faith and what is believed.  Often, the parent meets this question with a reaction such as “How dare they?”  I don’t think this serves your child well.  Instead, I believe that the parent has been presented a real good opportunity.  Think about it this way, mom or dad, you now have a child who is asking you about, or at least talking to you about, his or her faith. 

Therefore, I would respond with questions and teaching. 

Ask, “What do you think about infant baptism?”  “Do you think it counts?”  “Why?”  “Why not?”

Depending on what their answer is, you will know how to proceed.

Here is one caution I will give.  You better make sure you know what we believe and why.  If you don’t, go on a discovery with your child.  I have an abundance of resources for you to use.  Here are a few thoughts to start your journey though.

In the end, we believe that baptism does something.  Disciples are made through baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20) therefore we do both for all ages as they are included in all nations.  We do believe that baptism gives God’s grace, “Baptism now saves you.” – 1 Peter 3:21.  It is not simply a symbol, but in it we find a promise.  We find the promise of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6).  Those who practice infant baptism are often accused of offering salvation outside of Jesus.  This is simply not the case.  Baptism is a means in which Jesus distributes the gift of his death and resurrection.  Similar to when Isaiah in Isaiah 6 has his sins atoned for through the angel taking a burning hot coal from the altar of the Lord and touching his lips, so we have our sins atoned for through the application of the water and the word.  God has a history or using things here on earth to interact with his people.  (Burning Bush, Jordan River, Hot Coal, A Donkey, etc… etc…)  There are many many more examples.  Did he have to use them, like does he have to use water.  No!  But he does.  Why?  I don’t know.  God is God, I am not.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Devotion 6.7.17

The Second Commandment - You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Robert Maplethorpe was a photographer who used the black and white medium to present items in direct opposition to one another and call it art.  He did get his photographs placed in large museums as many people considered his work stunning.  Then one day, some years ago, Maplethorpe did the unthinkable by placing a black and white photograph of a cross placed in a large jar of urine.  His art made a statement that created outrage by those offended by the work or created conversation by the art world about its "daring," which they would say it the object of art to sometimes say the unsaid. 

In the Christian world, this act is a direct violation of the Second Commandment, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God."   Blasphemy against the Trinity, such as an act like this, demonstrates complete disrespect for the very name of Christ.  The Small Catechism focuses on using God's name and the misuse of God's name which includes making a statement attacking God and mocking God. The Small Catechism speaks in definite terms of the use of God's name, where it is permissible, and where the believer needs to be aware of how we can misuse God's name.  We have creatively found ways to misuse God's name and much of it is either in direct opposition of God's name (profanity) or a sin to perhaps deceive using God's name (swearing an oath or something like it to convince a person you aren't being dishonest when, in fact, you are lying).  It also includes mockery of the Trinity.

In reality, I am no better than Maplethorpe when I disobey this commandment. Say I "swear" to something just to win the point in a discussion (Peter denying Christ)?  Say "geez" when I really know in my heart what I mean?  We have learned various and creative ways to misuse the name of God, but they have been around a long time because the catechism cites various Old and New Testament passages that speak to the use of God's name.

These examples, though, speak to the amazing irony that exists with the Christian faith and the very God whose name we are to honor and not misuse.  Other faiths have dramatic and severe punishment when you misuse their god's name or blaspheme their god.  Yet in Christianity, the very sacrifice of God's Son and the instrument used to murder Him, the cross, is the source of forgiveness we obtain for such misuse.  So, God forgives us for our misuse of His name, and as in the Lord's Prayer, we forgive those who trespass against us.  As hard as it is, we forgive the Maplethorpes of this world as we, too, are forgiven for our violations of the commandments, the Second and others. 

We note that we live in two kingdoms as well.  The heavenly and the earthly realm.  There are those inside the faith who will misuse God's name and those outside the faith who will as well.  As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians, we judge and admonish those inside the church for their sins, but we leave those outside the faith to God, whose name we revere and honor.  (v 12 - 13)  Yet through it all, we go to God for forgiveness when we fail and we forgive those, inside or outside the faith, for their sins against our God and against us, including people who profane the very name of God through whatever chosen medium. 

We pray that we constantly honor God's name by how we use it, and we pray that God forgive us when we don't use His name appropriately.  We pray that we lift God's name on high in all places and at all times and take seriously the command to honor Him and His name.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, June 5, 2017

Devotion 6.6.17

Who our heroes are tells us a great deal about ourselves.  Ask any group of kids in your midst who their heroes are and you will likely get a variety of responses.  Many heroes will be sports' figures.  Some may be family who served in the military.  Some will point to an action figure that has made his or her fame on the big screen, either by the action figure's name (Iron Man for example) or the actor himself (Robert Downey).  I know this because I taught in school and kids were keen when it came to culture.

Sometimes we even grow to idolize these figures, but we can idolize more than fame and celebrity.  Take for example our own children.  They can, for whatever reason, take center stage in our lives and our identity is consumed by our children, their activities, and their future.  So, are you saying that loving our children is idolizing them?  No, I'm saying that when we look at this commandment (the First Commandment) of not putting God first and following idols, they (idols) can come from a direction we least expect.  Loving our children and sacrificing our entire life for them are two separate issues. 

So, when we speak of "idols," sometimes we unfortunately look past what may be a problem because we've slowly fallen into the problem.  Idol worship is likely not be something we just decided to do one day and stopped worshipping God altogether to focus on our new god.  Instead, we may just find ourselves there.  When Martin Luther examines the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods," he examines the simple commandment from a variety of perspectives, but the most important perspective is his analysis of what God expects of us with this commandment.  "...we revere Him alone as the highest being, honor Him with our lives, and avoid what displeases Him.... We love God above all things when we cling to Him alone as our God and gladly devote our lives to His service." Christ tells us in Matthew 10, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

We hit a slippery slope when we take our eyes off God.  It can be a slow descent or it can be a fall.  Pray that we always above all things love, cling, devote, revere, and honor God, and we pray for His forgiveness when we do things that displease Him, including not to turn to Him as we should.  We give thanks to our God who provides us with mercy and forgiveness and grace.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Devotion 6.5.17

History books today are built largely around a movement that I refer to as "deconstructionist" history.  That means that there are historians who write to present what they feel is a more accurate picture of what happened at that moment in history.  They seek to separate myth from fact.  To an extent, as the event grows further in distance, a more sober picture of what happened and its causes moves away from the political influences that may shape it early on in its history.  Unfortunately, the down side is that the lens that is used to present this history may be just as clouded.  For example, Founding Fathers are looked down upon for not only allowing slavery, but for having slaves, so what happens is we view history through the moral lens of the present.  While slavery is abhorrent, it was the practice during their time, so does that take away from what they accomplished and does it "deconstruct" their moral standing, their efforts, and their own accomplishments? 

This happens in the church as well.  People look at scripture in two ways:  the inerrant Word of God or an account written by men that needs to be viewed through a critical historical analysis.  We begin to deconstruct what has been traditionally taught and put today's world view in its place. This creates a broad array of viewpoints as to who Christ is, what he stood for, and what parts of the Bible are factual or story?  It is that precipice on which we need to tread carefully... and it's nothing new. 

As we near the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and reacquaint ourselves with the roots of our faith, I look at this kind of challenge for the church and often wonder what Martin Luther might say. His statement would be uncompromising for one, and it would be based on scripture which is the basis of our faith.  His explanatory letter for writing the Small Catechism may be a good place to hear what he would say about today's various views of faith, the scripture, and the issues we face:  "The deplorable and miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to  put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form.... The common man ... knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach."  If we know little about our faith (Lutheran or other), then almost anything can pass for "truth." So, here is a summary of what we believe that will shield you and protect the integrity of what we teach from such assaults.

Paul, dealing with similar issues in his time, says it this way:  "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:6-7)

We pray that we learn to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God not just for salvation's benefit, but to maintain the accuracy of the truth of the Word of God so that we can boldly proclaim it to others.  We pray that our faith is one that is based on the true Word of God and that we remain sober and alert at all times for teaching that may cause us to stray from the truth.

Hope Men's Ministry