Miracle of Ordinary Things

And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”

Matthew 15:34

Nearly every Christian – and quite a few non-Christians – have heard the Bible story “The Feeding of the 5000.”

That miracle is recorded in all four Gospels. But the miracle of “The Feeding of the 4000” is a separate miracle only recorded in Matthew and Mark.

Both miracles point us to the miraculous provision of God. One of the lessons of each miracle is that God provides us with what we need.

As I explored in the devotions “Miraculous Feeding” and “Satisfaction”, there are other miracles of God providing people with food that they need. God provided manna and quail for the People of Israel during their Wilderness Wanderings following the Exodus (Exodus 16). And God provided bread for 100 men through his prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4).

God will always provide exactly what we need at the exact right moment. But there are a couple of things to consider.

One, God is never late and seldom – if ever – early.

There are times when I have waiting for God to come through, show up, or in some way provide for me. But I was disappointed because I had my own schedule and God wasn’t interested in my schedule.

It’s not a bad thing to have a schedule, but it is important to remember that our vision is limited, while God’s is not. What we think is the right time for God to act and provide is limited to our view on things. God is not restricted in his view so he knows the exact right time to act and provide!

When I look back at all those times in my life when God has acted in my life and provided, I see that it was exactly what I needed and at the exact perfect time! God is never late and seldom – if ever – early!

Two, don’t go to a place where it will take a miracle to save you from it!

There are times when I have put myself in an impossible situation and it was only by the grace of God that I got out of it. God gave us a brain and wants us to use it! Don’t get yourself into a place where it will take a miracle to save you from it! God can do it, don’t get me wrong. But if I get into tough spots because I hadn’t let God control my life, then that isn’t what God wants for my life! He wants something better for me!

When we read about how Jesus feeds the 5000 and then the 4000, both times he uses what has already been given to provide for so many more.

With the feeding of the 4000, Jesus makes a point to ask them what the disciples have. I believe he wants them to see that it doesn’t matter how much they have but that they simply have gifts and provisions from God.

God wants to use what we have already been given and have in our possession now.

We have the ordinary things. God will take care of the miracle. And we give glory and thanksgiving to God for both!

Prayer

Heavenly Father, even as you bless your servants with various and unique gifts of the Holy Spirit, continue to grant us the grace to use them always to your honor and glory; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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A Loss

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Philippians 3:8

When St. Paul talks about counting everything as loss, that’s a little hard to understand.

Everything, Paul? Really?

Yes, really. At least when compared to knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.

Paul tells us that there is absolutely nothing in all creation that compares with knowing Christ Jesus as our Lord.

Christ Jesus is the Word through whom God created the entire universe. What could be greater than the Creator?

Yet, that’s the temptation of the devil. To focus more on the creation than the Creator.

God did such a wonderful job with his creation, it is very tempting to overlook the Creator when we wonder in awe looking at his creation.

I’ve been to the Pacific shore near San Diego. I’ve been to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and the Bitterroot Range in Idaho. I’ve hiked through Jackson Hole in the shadow of the Grand Tetons and explored the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. I’ve napped in the shade on the white sands of Cabo San Lucas. I’ve slalomed down the slopes of the Dolomites in Cortina, Italy. (I’ve been incredibly blessed to have parents that love me and have taken me to these places or allowed me to go to these places based on the blessings God has given them.)

It is a very real temptation to overlook the Creator when you are in the presence of his majestic creation.

This is what Martin Luther has getting at when he wrote,

“The invocation of saints is also one of the Antichrist’s abuses that conflicts with the chief article and destroys the knowledge of Christ. It is neither commanded nor counseled, nor has it any warrant in Scripture. Even if it were a precious thing—which it is not—we have everything a thousand times better in Christ” (Smalcald Articles Article II The Mass, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, pp 266-67).

Which is why regular morning devotions is vital for me. When I start each day with reading God’s Word, reading a devotion based on God’s Word, and spend time in extended prayer to God, then I have more strength from the Holy Spirit to overcome this temptation of overlooking the Creator.

But I can only do this because Christ Jesus is my Lord.

This is what Paul is getting at when he says that he counts every as loss when compared to knowing Christ.

  1. S. Lewis is reported to have written (as found in the book The Joyful Christian),

“Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

Why would I want to focus solely on the creation when I am offered a deep and everlasting relationship with the Creator?

Because of my salvation won by Christ alone through his death and resurrection, I can truly enjoy God’s creation even as I look forward to my everlasting life on the New Earth (see Revelation 21).

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for this amazing creation that you have placed me in to look after and enjoy. I pray that you will strengthen me in my faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit so that I never overlook you, the Creator, while enjoying your creation ; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Time Travel

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Galatians 5:24

There are some great stories about time travel.

The classic The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. There’s also one of my favorites, The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein.

Of course, the Back to the Future movie trilogy has to be one of the most popular time travel stories of all time.

Alas, time travel is not possible. At least not yet.

Or is it?

Actually, the Christian Church has the closest thing to time travel that I’ve seen so far.

It is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Yes, you read that right. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is spiritual time travel!

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:3-4

When I was baptized, I traveled back in time – spiritually – to Jesus’ cross. I was crucified along with Jesus. I was buried along with Jesus. I was resurrected along with Jesus.

Everyone who is baptized by water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit experiences this spiritual time travel.

We are crucified with Christ. Jesus Christ took all our sins (and all the sins of all people) on himself and paid the penalty for them on the cross.

Our sinful nature was then buried with Christ in the tomb.

But when Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised with a new nature. Instead of sin, through Baptism we have the righteousness of Christ!

Our sinful human nature rears its ugly head from the grave every day. We are tempted to sin by the devil, the world, and our sinful human nature.

By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace we can overcome these tempters!

But if we don’t overcome them, if we choose to live accord to the sinful human nature, according to what Lutherans have believed, taught, and confessed for nearly 500 years, “Those who walk according to the flesh retain neither faith nor righteousness” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article V Love and Fulfilling the Law, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, p 135).

When we were baptized, we traveled back in time to Christ’s death and resurrection in the First Century AD.

But every day we must, by contrition and repentance, drown that old sinful human nature and walk by faith!

Again, as Lutherans have believed, taught, and confessed for nearly 500 years: “Faith must be the mother and source of works that are truly good and well pleasing to God, which God will reward in this world and in the world to come” (Formula of Concord – Solid Declaration Article IV, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, p 548).

We can do this! By the power of the Holy Spirit! We can walk in the righteousness of God! We do not have to give in to our flesh’s passion and desires.

I realize that this is the exact opposite of what the culture has been telling us for generations now.

But really, who do you want to listen to? The culture that is going more insane by the minute? Or God who clearly loves you and wants what’s best for you?

Crucify your sinful human flesh – not literally, but spiritually – by using the Means of Grace.

It is possible and it is the best way to live!

I implore you, O Lord, in your kindness to show me your great mercy that I may be set free from my sins and rescued from the punishments that I rightly deserve; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Fruit Recognition

[Jesus said,] Thus you will recognized them by their fruits.
Matthew 17:20

When my family lived in Southern California, we were blessed to have a plum tree and a lemon tree in our backyard.

Alas, the plum tree only produced fruit one of the four years we lived there. But the lemon tree had a lot of fruit each and every year.

The home next door had an orange tree – part of which hung over our fence. The orange blossoms in the spring gave a wonderful aroma to the backyard!

Each summer we would go out into the backyard and look for oranges on the orange tree, plums on the plum tree, and lemons on the lemon tree.

It would be silly to look for bananas on the orange tree, green grapes on the plum tree, and apples on the lemon tree.

We looked for the fruit that was expected on the various fruit trees. Each tree produced its own distinct fruit.

We were disappointed when the plum tree didn’t produce plums. We found out later that it was due to insufficient water reaching the tree roots.

As I remember looking at the trees without their fruit, I could tell they were different trees but that’s about it. I could not tell what kind of trees they were until the fruit appeared.

As Jesus says, “Thus you will recognized them by their fruits.

This is true of fruit trees. This is also true of people.

Everything we do – as Christians, that is, – should be pointing people to Jesus Christ and his salvation. This is our fruit.

But unless we actually produce the fruit, no one will know we are Christians.

Our fruit is a distinctive kind of love, as the camp song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love! Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love!”

When Jesus talks about good fruit and bad fruit in Matthew 17, he begins by pointing out that he’s talking about being warry of false prophets.

You will know a false prophet by the fruit they produce. They may “talk a good game,” meaning they may sound religious and doctrinal. But unless they actually produce the fruit of a prophet, they are to be seen for what they are: false prophets.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that since you are not a prophet, Jesus is not talking about you.

You actually are a prophet, in a sense. You are one who is to speak God’s Word to other people (the first and foremost role of a prophet in the Old Testament).

Martin Luther describes what a modern-day prophet does this way:

“You must hold on to the chief part, the summary, of Christian teaching and accept nothing else: That God has sent and given Christ, His Son, and that only through Him does He forgive us all our sins, justify and save us” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 21 quoted from The Lutheran Study Bible, copyright © 2009 by Concordia Publishing House, p 1593).

This is our fruit. This is our love. This is our story that we share.

By this fruit we will be known.

Almighty God, you have called your Church to share the love of Christ as our fruit. This is our story: that in Christ you have reconciled us to yourself. Grant that by your Holy Spirit we may continue to proclaim the good news of your salvation so that all who hear it may receive the gift of salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Renewed Strength

They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength….
Isaiah 40:31

Sometimes I just get so tired that I lose my cool.

I get real impatient and I snap at people when I’m tired.

And there are times when I get tired that I don’t feel like doing much of anything except sit around.

And that makes me more tired.  And weak. And then I tend to get sick.

I feel faint. I feel weary. Even as a young man, who should be full of vigor and energy!

I’m exhausted and I can’t think very well. I may have plans and desires but when I’m exhausted I can’t put the plans into words and I can’t find the strength to even desire them!

This is certainly not God’s plan for my life.

It is most certainly a result of sin.

Now, everyone needs a day of rest. That we need rest is not a result of sin. God created a day of rest for his creation before the Fall.

What makes us tired can be a result of sin, however.

Especially if we are attempting to run our lives our way.

While God gave us the ability to reason and think, as well as gifting us with passions and talents, if we use them selfishly we will find ourselves exhausted.

Also, if we use them to try to make other people happy, to please others, we can also find ourselves exhausted. That’s because other people’s happiness is not in our control! People must ultimately choose to be happy.

So, there are times I’m tired. I look forward to my day off so I can rest. Hopefully, I’ll recover from my weariness.

I have looked forward to vacations for the same reason. But sometimes it doesn’t work. And I shouldn’t be surprise.

If I’m spending five days – or 50 weeks – getting tied up in knots, two days – or 2 weeks – isn’t going to be enough time to unravel them!

What’s the solution? How can I renew my strength? How can I find a way to run and not be weary, walk and not faint?

By “waiting for the Lord” (Isaiah 40:31).

I have found that my exhaustion and weariness comes from attempting to do life my way, in my own time, with my own strength.

But that was never how God intended for us to do life!

The day of rest that he made holy (see Exodus 20:11) was intended to be a day that we worship God. That’s “waiting for the Lord.

When we come together with brothers and sisters in Christ and worship God, we hear the Word of God, we confess our sins, we are absolved of ours sins, and we can receive the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

That will renew our strength. That will enable us to run and not be weary, walk and not faint!

Rest is not just sitting and relaxing, it is “waiting for the Lord” in worship and prayer and God’s Word.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Re-post: Pruning

NOTE: This was the most-viewed post this past week! – Ed

[Jesus said], “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
John 15:2

I have a raspberry bush in my backyard, thanks to my friend John.

I planted it there three years ago. It has grown and flourished and produced sweet, succulent red raspberries – and always more the next year than the last.

But it will only do so if I prune it back in the fall, after the growing season has ended.

I was very surprised to learn just how much I had to prune it in order for more fruit to grow the following year. I had to cut it till it was nearly all gone – at least to my eye.

The first time I did that, I thought to myself, “There’s no way this will come back, grow, and produce fruit.”

But it did. Boy, did it ever!

When John brought the original plant over, it was just this little, scrawny thing.

But this raspberry bush is now so much bigger and producing so many more raspberries!

For certain times of plants, it is vital that they be pruned in order to produce more fruit or flowers.

Raspberry bushes, grape vines, and rose plants all need to be pruned in order for more growth to happen the following season.

Thankfully, the plant doesn’t have sentience that can feel the cuts made. They don’t “hurt.”

Jesus uses the analogy of pruning for the growth of his disciples. He says that to make us produce more fruit – that is, to be growing in our faith – he will prune us.

Unfortunately, unlike plants, our pruning can be unpleasant and even hurt!

In a recent team ministry devotion it was asked of us, “What was it like to be pruned by God?”

One of our team members answered for all of us!

“It hurt!”

God allows bad things, hurtful things, and unpleasant things to come into our lives. Sometimes these are additions and sometimes these are subtractions.

The prime Biblical example is the Old Testament character Job.

God “pruned” Job by allowing his wealth to be taken away from him and by allowing the death of his ten children. God also “pruned” Job by given him sores and boils and deteriorating health.

Yet it all this, Job grew stronger in his faith in God. He even became so bold as to question God and his plan for Job! You can read more about Job in the series of devotions on Job here (soon to be available in book and ebook form!).

No pruning in our lives is pleasant to go through while we’re going through it. But I pray that as you look back over past prunings in your life you’ll see how much growth and fruit you’ve been able to produce for God and neighbor because of it!

Almighty and merciful God, in this earthly life we endure sufferings and afflictions before we ultimately enter in glory. Grant us grace at all times to subject ourselves to your holy will and see your hand in pruning us so that we are strengthened in our faith and that we will remain in the truth faith. May we know your joy and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Salt Is Good

[Jesus said], “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.”
Luke 14:34-35

Summertime! Here on the Illinois prairie it is a time of warm, humid days. Sunshine and wind rustling the corn fields.

Picnics and backyard BBQ’s with hamburgers, hotdogs and watermelon.

Ah, watermelon. I love a sweet, juicy, chilled watermelon on a hot summer day.

I have fond memories of sitting in my grandparent’s yard along the banks of Squaw Creek in Ingleside, fishing for bluegill and crappie and eating watermelon in the shade of their huge and ancient willow tree.

As I look over to my right in my memory I see my grandmother – Nana – sitting there with a cane fishing pole eating a big slice of watermelon.

Before she takes each bite, she sprinkles a little salt on it!

Now, I like salt. I like salt on my popcorn, on my salad (along with lemon juice), on my potatoes and chips.

But on watermelon?

It was a delicacy to her, but I never understood it.

Salt is an important part of a person’s diet. According to the website fitday.com salt helps retain water in the body, stimulates muscle contraction, and contains nutrients vital to the digestive system while low levels of salt in the body, along with low blood pressure, leads to shock.

It is also known that salt, like just about everything else, is only good in moderation. Excessive intake of salt is very bad for a person.

Salt has also been an important economic commodity, especially in its importance in preserving food. So much so, it is thought by some, that early in the Roman era soldiers were paid in salt.

Both the words salary and soldier have their roots in the Latin word for salt.

The benefits and commodity of salt seem to be on Jesus’ mind when he tells us that “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.”

He would go on to call his followers the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

Our faith is what makes us “salty” – that is, what makes us beneficial and precious to others. As long as we have faith and continue to grow in our faith, we can be of benefit to others in this world. A benefit by sharing the Good News of Jesus with them.

We are precious because of our response – in faith – to God’s love for us. Our response is to love and serve others. Loving and helping others is how we are “salty.”

Like real salt, we can lose our saltiness. If we do not strengthen our faith through the use of the Means of Grace (most notably the reading of God’s Word regularly and receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion regularly – if appropriate) we can suffer from weakened faith that will not be considered “salty” by Jesus’ standards. See what Jesus says about what to do with such salt!

Let’s stay salty! Let’s continue to be a benefit and precious to the people of our world by salting their lives with the Gospel and the love that responds to the Gospel!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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