Stand Up and Bless the Lord

Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting.
Nehemiah 9:5

I’ve called it “Lutheran Calisthenics.”

“Stand up, sit down, repeat” throughout a worship service.

It is more than just trying to get people to get a little exercise while they worship, however.

If you are of a certain age, you were taught that it is the polite thing to do to stand when a lady enters a room.

Hardly anyone does that anymore. And when someone does do it they shock people! But when they are asked why they are standing when a lady enters a room they couldn’t tell you, other than “It’s the polite thing to do.” (Which is probably why most younger people are not taught to do it anymore – because those who teach don’t know why it should be done).

Standing is a sign of respect. It also is a public confession that you are welcoming the person for whom you are standing. When you stand you are signaling to all who witness it – and to the person themselves – that you are pleased to see them and are inviting them into your personal space.

I’m a big proponent for knowing – and explaining – why we do the things we do in liturgical worship. Nearly everything we do from the Invocation to the Benediction (beginning to end) has a purpose and sends a message.

Standing is one of those things. We tend to stand when we confess our sins because we are addressing the Almighty God and confessing to him that we are sinners and repentant.

We tend to stand when we sing a hymn stanza that gives glory to the Holy Trinity. If we are already standing, bowing will convey the same message – that we are addressing God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and acknowledging God as our God.

In certain liturgical settings we stand for the formal reading of the Gospel because it is usually the very words of Jesus Christ (or at the very least, specifically about Jesus Christ).

In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, a group of Levitical Priests are leading the people of Israel in a worship service of formal confession of sins. At one point they say, “Stand up and bless the LORD!

When we stand to bless (worship) the LORD (Yahweh), we are making a public confession that he is God (and we are not) and that we are welcoming God into our lives to forgive us and heal us.

We are also telling ourselves the same thing. We are reminding ourselves of our standing before God by standing before God!

This isn’t to say that not standing is improper and a sin. Some people are physically incapable of standing. And we are not bound by some law to stand or sit or kneel when we worship.

Standing is just one way of showing respect and reminding us of who we are, who God is, and our relationship with him.

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

Made A Little Lower

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Psalm 8:5

The human body is an amazing thing.

We have the ability to mend ourselves when we’ve broken a bone. We can fight off infection with our blood. We can imagine something and then figure out how to build it!

There are two main ideas about how the human body came to be this way.

One is that it was just random chance and mutation over vast amounts of time.

The other is that God created us that way.

I’m sure it is not a shock to you that I believe the latter.

Of course, it takes faith to believe that God created us.

But from where I sit, it takes even greater faith – nigh impossibly great faith – to believe that over millions of years, random chance used mutations to come up with the human eye, the capacity to defeat infections with white blood cells, and form a brain that can imagine the Saturn V rocket and Lunar Module – all in the same bodies!

Many times when I look in the mirror (or see myself in the screen of my iPad), I thank God for creating me and all humans like he did.

Psalm 8 is a song King David wrote for the same reasons!

But just how wonderfully made are we?

King David says that God made us a little lower than the heavenly beings. This could mean the “angels” and that’s a pretty amazing thing. We know from other parts of the Bible that angels are powerful creatures. And we’re just a little less powerful than they? Awesome!

But “heavenly beings” could also be translated as the plural form of God himself (plural because God is Trinity).

This is where the idea that human beings are the crown of God’s creation comes from.

Only God is greater than us!

Of course, he’s much, much, greater than us but the point is that all the rest of creation is under our control.

God has put all the creation under our “dominion.” We are charged by God to take care of it and protect it.

Yet, we didn’t do such a good job. No sooner had God created Adam and Eve and put all creation in their hands than they rejected God and succumbed to the temptation of Satan.

Now creation is tainted. It is in turmoil, awaiting the day when we humans are finally saved by God.

Our salvation comes through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And those who have saving faith in Jesus will, on the Last Day, be raised and taken to God’s side.

This creation, then, will be destroyed by fire (see 2 Peter 3).

We will then be given a new heaven and new earth to live forever in the presence of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

The Night Sky

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Job 38:21-32

The starts have been up there in the sky my whole life.

I could stare at them for hours!

The constellations became familiar friends.

The Big Dipper.

Orion’s belt.

The Bear.

And the gentle smear of star dust of the visible arm of the Milky Way galaxy.

One of my favorite places in Chicago is the Adler Planetarium. And my favorite place in the planetarium is the Sky Show.

When I first started writing devotions in the late 1990’s, I used my thoughts that came to me while walking in the predawn hours from my house to my church office.

I called those initial devotions “A Walk in the Dark” and they began with devotions based on looking up at the stars. I followed the Big Dipper into the office.

While I lived in Michigan, I saw my first comet. Hale-Bopp made its record-breaking return to earth’s sky early in 1997. I spent a lot of time in my back yard looking up into the northern sky that Spring.

One year, the Northern Lights made a rare visit to Central Wisconsin and my appreciation for the night sky deepened.

When I look up into the night sky, I am constantly convinced that God is an amazingly artistic Creator.

Genesis 1 tells us that God created the stars, the sun and the moon. He’s the Artist and Physicists of our universe.

And in Job 38, this is part of God’s longed-looked-for reply to Job.

For 35 chapters, Job has been complaining, laying out his case of his innocence and listening to his friends’ accusations.

He’s been calling on God to answer him.

Well, finally God does just that.

But perhaps Job doesn’t get the answer he was looking for.

God points out that He’s the creator of the entire universe. The stars, the planet earth and its diverse life and functions.

And his point is that Job cannot handle the truth he’s been looking for!

Our infinite Creator cannot be understood by our finite minds.

We cannot know all there is to know about God nor about his universe.

The best we can do is to know that we cannot know.

But one thing we can know – God’s love for us. Because God doesn’t explain his love for us. We cannot learn it as we learn science or math lessons.

We experience God’s love in the person of his only Son, Jesus Christ!

That is where this reply of God will lead Job and us. To stop trying to figure out the “whys” and to focus on the “what” of God’s love – Jesus Christ!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

Love God? Then Love Others

We love because [God] first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:19-20

Every morning I wake up next to a lovely woman who loves me. I don’t know how I came to be so blessed by God to have such a lovely and loving wife, but I thank God every day for her!

The love of a married couple is a picture of God’s love for all of us, as St. Paul illustrates in his letter to the Ephesians (see Ephesians 5).

John picks up on this theme of love in his first epistle.

I am able to love my wife and my wife love me because God first loved us. We wouldn’t know how to love if God didn’t first love us and define love for us.

It is really that simple. God is love. And we are able to love because God is love.

It is important to realize that God doesn’t just say he loves us. He says he loves us (see Hosea 3) and he shows that he loves us.

God created us. God promised to send a Savior when we – as a race – rejected him. God fulfilled his promise in Jesus Christ who was born, lived, died, rose and ascended in order to save God’s people!

God did this all out of love. And now, as God’s beloved, we are to live the same way!

Remember, however, that we can say we love God but unless we also love others, we are liars. There is no loving God without loving other people.

This is the difference between Christianity and other religions.

Just recently, there was a terrorist bombing that killed almost two dozen people. Those who are taking credit for the bombing said they did so because of their religion.

In their religion they may say they love God, but they also show that they hate certain people.

John is very clear (writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit it is actually God who is making it very clear) that there is no loving God if we do not love other people as well.

In the past, even those who claimed to be Christians hated certain peoples. John convicts in this case as well. If love of God doesn’t also lead to and include love of other people, then it is not Christianity.

The glorious irony is that even when those who claim to love God but hate other people (by hurting them or even killing them) are still loved by God.

Jesus – while he was being crucified by those who hated him – said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23).

With that same love – the love of Christ within us – we can and must reach out to all people! Even if they want to kill us in response, we must love them even as we love God.

I realize that this is a tall order. And also something that most likely cannot happen overnight.

But it is my prayer that I can be brought by the Holy Spirit to this kind of love for others, even if it dangerous. I ask you to pray the same!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

Stand Firm in Traditions

So the, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us….
2 Thessalonians 2:15

Traditions can be things that are handed down to us by previous generations.

Most everyone has traditions they cherish. Things they do at Christmas-time. Things they eat at Thanksgiving. Things they do for birthdays, while on vacation, at the beginning or end of the school year, and on and on.

Then there are traditions that exist in congregations. Things that they have always done.

There was one pastor who was a guest preacher filling in at a certain congregation. It was during the summer months and their regular pastor was on vacation.

He arrived somewhat early to the little church. It was a congregation that was over 100 years old, with a cemetery right next to it and a verdant corn field across the street.

The people gathered for the service, shuffling in amid the tried-and-true preservice organ music. As they found their regular pew, they said good morning to friends and family, shook hands with each other, all the while stealing glances to the front to see if they could catch a preview glimpse of their guest preacher.

Soon enough, he walked out and stood in front of the congregation and began the worship service.

He bowed before the altar and then turned to welcome them to worship. As he turned, he was surprised to find nearly the entire gathered group sitting on one side of the sanctuary.

But they didn’t seem at all bothered by this, so he didn’t say anything.

As he stood looking at the faces of these steadfast Christians, he led them in the confession of sins, read to them Holy Scripture, and then had them sit down to sing the hymn before the sermon. He turned to walk to his chair behind the pulpit to get ready to sing with them.

As the organist introduced the hymn, the preacher was startled by a commotion. He turned back to the congregation and what a sight to behold!

The entire congregation was moving to the other side of the sanctuary!

Again, no one seemed surprised or startled except him, so he didn’t say anything.

He preached his sermon, albeit a bit distracted as part of his mind was trying to figure out this odd behavior.

The rest of the service continued with no further interruptions or mass movements by the people.

After the service, the guest preacher was sitting in the fellowship hall chatting with some of the people over coffee and a Danish.

As the people finished their fellowship and started to head home, an elderly gentlemen walked over to the preacher and sat down.

“Good morning, Reverend. Thank you for preaching God’s Word to us this day!” he said.

“You are quite welcome. It was a … ah…. pleasure and a … um … unique experience!” the preacher replied.

“I bet you are talking about the mass movement right before the sermon hymn.”

The guest preacher let out a sigh and said, “Well, now that you mention it, that was rather odd. Why do they do that?”

“It’s a funny thing. Most of the people actually don’t really know why they do it. It’s just that they have always done that, for over 70 years. Two or three generations have grown up in this church doing it but don’t really know why,” the elderly gentlemen explained.

The guest preacher noticed a twinkle in his eye and said, “But I’m guessing you do know the reason why!”

“You are correct, sir!”

“You see, 70 years ago, this was a vibrant and exciting congregation filled with mostly farmers and their families. As you probably suspect, we have sunny and warm summers – but they were awfully short. Our winters were long, drawn out affairs that were snowy and cold.

During the winter, this old clapboard church used to get mighty cold. One year, a particularly wealthy business man joined our congregation and, not being from around here originally, didn’t like the cold winters at all.

So he donated a large and brand new wood burning stove to heat the sanctuary in the winter time. The trustees of the congregation installed it the north side of the sanctuary as that was the coldest part of building.

Everyone was pleased with this new donation and during that cold and snowy winter, this sanctuary was warm and toasty. In fact, too warm and toasty. At the beginning of the service, everyone would sit near the stove to keep warm. But by the time of the sermon, they were plenty warm and they would get up and move to the other side of the sanctuary to be comfortable in the cooler air.

That stove was so well built, it lasted us till the late ‘60’s when another wealthy businessman donated a new, central heating and air conditioning unit and the stove was removed.

But the tradition of sitting on one side of the sanctuary at the beginning of the service and moving to the other side in the middle of the service was so ingrained in the hearts and lives of the people that they kept doing it out of habit.

Today, they still do it, although there are only a few of us left who know why we used to do it in the first place!”

This kind of tradition is not one the “traditions” that St. Paul is talking about in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. He is not talking about things that we do “because we’ve always done it that way.”

He is talking about things that he and his companions (Luke, Timothy, Silas) had taught them when they were in Thessalonica. Things like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how the Old Testament prophesied about the coming of Christ, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

You and I are tempted to stand firm in our traditions because we’ve always done them. They are comfortable. They feel right. They are a part of who we are.

But St. Paul reminds us that we need to stand firm in the traditions that God has passed on down to us through our fathers and forefathers – the Good News of Jesus Christ and him crucified!

Other traditions are fine, but the traditions of the Gospel will stand forever and will cause us to stand firm as well as we pass them on to another generation!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

Watching and Thankful

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
2 Thessalonians 1:3

“They are watching you. 24/7/365.”

I was told that this is what it would be like being a parent. My children would watch me. Even when I didn’t realize it. Even when I didn’t think they were. Even when I didn’t want them to.

It was true. They were watching me. They still are.

My wife and I have three sons. Our youngest is 17. Our middle is 18. Our oldest is soon to be 21 (how did that happen?).

And they have watched me all their lives.

I was privileged to be the first baseball coach of all three of them. The youngest and the oldest still play – one in high school and one in college. And they still play the game the way I taught them to play. They were listening. They were watching. Not watching how I played the game but how I taught them how to play the game.

I was also privileged to be their first pastor. I taught all three of them about Jesus as revealed in Scripture and further revealed in Luther’s Small Catechism.

They still read their Bible’s and participate in worship as often as they can.

The other day my oldest told me that he was picked to lead the team in prayer before a baseball game.

The youngest has about a dozen Bible passages in his “work out log” book that help him understand why he is practicing and training for the game of baseball.

Our middle son just bought a ring with a cross on in to wear. But when I asked him why he took it off the other day, he said some kids were making fun of him for it. I told him that would happen – it is part of what we face as Christians.

They still watch me. They still learn about life and faith from my wife and me. It is an awesome and scary responsibility.

But it is part of being a parent and God helps us every day to do the best we can.

Recently I was reading through First and Second Thessalonians as part of my morning devotion time.

When I came across 2 Thessalonians 1:3 I stopped and said a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

For I give thanks to God for my three sons because it is evident to both my wife and I that their faith is growing abundantly!

However, we don’t feel our job is done! We still look for relevant resources to use for our daily devotions with our sons. It is important to my wife and I that we continue to grow as a family in our faith in Jesus Christ!

Why?

Because the world isn’t getting any better. We see it decaying and destroying itself every day. And one day soon, our boys will be living in this world but not in our house. They won’t have our daily influence anymore.

So we continue to thank God for their abundantly growing faith and pray that God will keep them in that faith after our daily influence is gone.

So that they will be ready when the End comes and Jesus calls all the faithful home to heaven.

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

He Lives!

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Job 19:25

“I Know That My Redeemer Lives” has been a hymn that has been sung at the past 22 Easter Sunday worship services of which I have been presiding or preaching minister.

It also is used at the vast majority of funerals that I have presided or preached at for the last 22 years.

This hymn by Samuel Medley is very popular because of the amazing message that he put in it – the Easter message.

The phrase “He lives” is repeated thirty times over eight stanzas.

Anything repeated that often in a song or poem must be important. And so it is!

That Jesus is alive is incredibly good news. It is the best news of all.

After Jesus died a gruesome death on the cross – and there was no doubt he was dead, no one could survive what Jesus went through – three days later he was alive.

He lives!

But why?

That is the question this hymn answers.

Jesus lives to: save, rule his Church, grant me rich supply, guide me, comfort me, hear my soul’s complaint, silence my fears, wipe away my tears, calm my troubled heart, impart blessings, bless me, plead for me, feed my soul, love me, grant me daily breath, my mansion to prepare, to bring me safely there (to my mansion).

That’s quite a list!

And yet, that’s only part of the Easter message!

Jesus bled and died to save you and I from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

As we learn from the Book of Job, the devil has some pretty powerful weapons in his arsenal. He’s able to destroy Job’s wealth, his family, and very nearly his health.

But God is more powerful than the devil – no surprise there. The creator is always more powerful than his creation.

But what makes God most powerful is not strength, or weapons, or tactics.

It is something that Satan doesn’t have. Something that we desperately need.

What makes God powerful is love.

God loves us. Even amid death and despair, God’s love is more powerful than anything else.

That’s why Job can say, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

That’s why Jesus goes to the cross to die.

God’s love for us!

And now it’s our turn.

It is Easter Sunday and it is time to celebrate God’s love. Sing a hymn of praise, shout that Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Spend time with your church family. Spend time with your blood family.

But come Easter Monday, it is time to respond to God’s love.

Tell someone else that you know that your Redeemer lives!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.