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.