Hold Fast

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:5

In the Church – especially in worship – we use a language and words that are somewhat unique.

Words like “sanctification,” “justification,” “canticle,” and “sanctus.” They are words that have specific meanings and, while they can be used in everyday conversation, are usually reserved for use in the Church alone.

The Church uses unique language because we have a unique message and a unique mission!

Another one of those uniquely used words is “steadfastness.”

It is a rather older English word that came from “standing fast” and a related phrase “hold fast.”

In “hold fast” we can get to the heart of this word’s meaning.

In one of my favorite movies, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” one of the crewmen of the HMS Surprise has tattooed on his fingers the letters “h o l d f a s t.”

This is to remind himself, and anyone else near him, to hang on tightly in perilous situations.

Hang on to what, specifically?

In a storm at sea, it means to hang on to the ship – literally, parts of the ship – in order to be safe and not swept overboard.

But it can also refer to hanging on to traditions, training, and each other as comrades in any situation that you find yourself in.

This is the spirit of what St. Paul writes about in 2 Thessalonians 2 & 3.

Paul encourages the Christians at Thessalonica to “stand firm” (“hold fast”) in (to) the traditions that they were taught by him, Timothy and Silas.

These traditions are the Old Testament teachings and practices that would specifically point to the Savior, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus Christ came into this world about 50 years before Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he didn’t create a whole new religion and faith.

Rather, Jesus fulfilled the ancient religion and faith of the Old Testament – going back in time through the prophets, King David, the judges, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, all the way to Adam and Eve.

This is the “tradition” that Paul encourages all of us to hold fast to. There is great comfort and strength to be found in our Christian faith as we become more fully aware that it is a religion and faith that goes all the way back to the very beginning of this universe!

As we hold fast to this faith and tradition, we are further encouraged that our faith isn’t actually in these traditions but rather in the steadfastness of Christ himself and the love of God.

A love of God that is unimaginable in that it is unconditional and not based one bit on anything that we do or don’t do.

And since Christ overcome death and the grave in order to save us from our sins, death, and the power of the devil, we have a sure rock to which we can hold fast.

We will become immovable and nothing can harm us or defeat us!

Hold fast!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Encouragement for Parents

For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
1 Thessalonians 3:5

This devotion goes into the file “things I need to hear and learn for myself.”

Most – if not all – of these devotions are lessons, thoughts, and meditations that I need to learn and heed first for myself! I am thankful to God that he has given me a platform in which to share these with others, but am most thankful that he speaks to me through them directly!

There are some things that were not told to me about parenting before I became a parent. The closest things to sage advice that I received was “you’ll understand when you are a parent.”

When my wife told me that we were starting our family – I remember the day vividly – we were so excited about becoming parents for the first time.

But here we are, twenty-one years later and I am still awed that God has called me to be a father! I’m also still plenty scared!

Early on, my wife and I understood that our primary responsibility as parents was to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our children. To that end we have nightly devotions and prayers – and have been doing that since our first born came home from the hospital.

I pray for my wife and children every day. My wife has brought our sons to worship nearly every week for the last twenty-one years (I’ve been there, too, but usually up in front of the church in my man-dress).

Still, sharing the Gospel and training up our sons is no guarantee that they will continue in the “faith of our fathers.”

In this, I can relate to what St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:5 about inquiring as to the faith-life of the church at Thessalonica.

The men, women, and children to whom Paul, Timothy, and Silas had proclaimed the Gospel were so close to Paul’s heart that he basically regarded them as his own family.

When Paul had to leave them in order to continue on his missionary journey to Athens, the church at Thessalonica was never far from Paul’s heart!

Thus, he writes to them to inquire of the status of their faith. His concern was that since they were no longer under his direct influence they would be tempted by the devil, the world, and their own sinful nature away from the one, true faith.

Paul understood that the Holy Spirit was the one who keeps people in the true faith and strengthens their faith through the Means of Grace. But Paul still has a father-like concern for his “children” at Thessalonica.

Much like a Christian parent today has for their own children!

So I encourage you young parents to double your efforts in sharing the Gospel of Jesus with your children. Bring them up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord – by worshiping together weekly, having them participate in a Sunday school or Bible class, and lead them in daily devotions and prayers.

For you more “experienced” parents, continue to pray for your sons and daughters – and grandchildren. Then follow up those prayers with a phone call (or text or Facetime or Skype, etc.) to further encourage them in growing up in the Lord.

That is my prayer for you today!

Visit, O Lord, the homes in which your people dwell, and keep all harm and danger far from them. Grant that we may dwell together in peace under the protection of your holy angels, sharing eternally in your blessings; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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I’ll Do It

All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
Exodus 19:8

Every parent, I believe, has experienced the “I’ll do it!” response from their children.

“Please, walk the dog!”

“I’ll do it.”

“Please, unload the dishwasher!”

“I’ll do it.”

“Please, clean your room!”

“I’ll do it.”

“Please, keep your truck clean, inside and out”

“I’ll do it.”

A blessed parent is one who experiences the culmination of the response, “I’ll do it.”

But for some parents, the culmination is few and far between!

The “I’ll do it” and then it doesn’t get done is much more common. Jesus even told a parable about this.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” (Matthew 21:28-31)

Jesus’ point is that we are all asked to do, to go. To go work in the vineyard, in the harvest field, by which Jesus means the world of people who need to hear or have heard the Gospel.

Some of us answer, “No” but then have a change of heart. That change of heart is called “repentance” and comes by the Holy Spirit using the Law on our hearts.

We repent of our sin of hearing Jesus but rejecting his command to go and work.

Of course, Jesus forgives all our sins – even this one – and in the power of the Gospel (the forgiveness), the Holy Spirit motivates us to go and work as Jesus asked us to in the first place.

But some of us answer “I’ll do it” but then don’t do it. This, too, is a sin. One I’m sure every parent is familiar with.

There can be many reasons why the action doesn’t follow the response.

Some say, “I’ll do it” but then get distracted by something or someone and put off “doing it” and forget to get back to it.

Some say, “I’ll do it” but then succumb to the temptation that they can’t actually do it. Satan has lied to them and convinced them that they don’t have the power to go to work for Jesus in the vineyard, in the harvest field.

There are also some who just out-and-out lie. They say, “I’ll do it” with no intention to ever going out to work.

All sin. All needs to be repented of. All forgiven by Christ through his death and resurrection!

And when we repent of these – as well as all our – sins, we need to strive to not commit them again!

As Christ has forgiven us, let us make our “I’ll do it” a promise we will keep through the power of the Holy Spirit!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Plentiful Harvest

[Jesus said], “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Luke 10:2

One of the joys of living where I do is that we get to experience all four seasons and the beauty and wonder that God displays through them.

Sometimes we can experience all four seasons in one weekend! But usually we get them at the normal times.

As we are now in the summer season, we can experience the spectacle that is a farmer’s field in full bloom!

My favorite summer field is that of corn. The stalks of sweet corn are about knee high right now.

The old adage is that corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” Not anymore, however. Farmers can plant corn about a month or so earlier than they could 50 years ago due to advancements of seed genetics and farming techniques.

A field of growing corn, or wheat, or barley, or soybeans, all are sure signs of summer here on the Illinois prairie.

But a field ripe for harvest also is sign of the work of the Church, according to Jesus.

Jesus tells us to pray to the Lord of the harvest – meaning God the Father – to send out workers into the harvest field. But he doesn’t mean farmers and the field isn’t a corn field.

The harvest field is the world. The crop is all the people of the world.

The seed that was planted by the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit used as his sowers the people of the Church.

When we share the Good News of Jesus Christ and his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension (the Gospel), the Holy Spirit plants seeds of faith into each person who hears it.

Through the continued holy watering of God’s Word, faith can sprout and take root in a person. The Means of Grace can continue to cultivate the seed and soon a harvest will be ready!

The sad news is that not everyone accepts the seed of the Gospel. The reject it, toss it away, and continue in their deadly, sin-filled ways.

That’s why Jesus calls on his Church to pray for harvest workers – to sow seed, be the means to cultivate the seed, and finally to bring the harvest in from the fields.

It is all God’s work but he graces us with the power of the Holy Spirit to participate in his work!

Please join me in prayer for harvest workers (which includes you!):

Almighty and gracious God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, you have commanded us to pray that you would send forth laborers into your harvest. Of your infinite mercy give us true teachers and ministers of your Word who truly fulfill your command and preach nothing contrary to your holy Word. Grant that we, being warned, instructed, nurtured, comforted, and strengthened by your holy Word, may do those things which are well pleasing to you and profitable for our salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Live At Peace

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:11

“I read the news today, oh boy!”

So begins the song “A Day in the Life” by Lennon & McCartney (The Beatles).

And the news that is read every day is mostly bad. Horrific. Despairing and depressing.

Yet another shooting, this time at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

No one was killed (as of this writing) but several were wounded, at least one critically.

Where I live (Chicago) the news media keeps a running tab on how many are killed by gunfire in the city each evening.

This is so very, very sad. And then, in order to heap anger on top of madness, some use these tragedies for political gain.

Can we all just get along? – Rodney King.

Apparently not.

We all have opinions about things.

One person believes this about climate change. Another person believes that.

One person believes this about gun control. Another person believes that.

One person believes this about a baby in the womb. Another person believes that.

And if I believe one thing and you believe another, does that make us mortal enemies?

Can we get along? Can we live at peace with each other even if we disagree about certain things?

If you watch the news I wouldn’t blame you if you think that it is impossible to live at peace with each other.

But I don’t believe that.

I believe that it is possible to live at peace with each other.

How is it possible?

One word: Jesus.

St. Paul admonishes us to “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace”.

How? By the power that comes from the truth, the fact, that “the God of love and peace will be with you.

Because of our original sin and actual sin, we are mortal enemies of God. But God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to reconcile us to himself.

Jesus the perfect God-man took all our sins and paid the full penalty for them on the cross.

He buried our sins in the tomb but left them there when he rose from the dead.

We now have true and lasting peace with God. Through the power of the Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament) we have the love and peace of God always with us.

And that love and peace overflows in our lives so that we can actually be at peace with others as well.

We have to use this power of love and peace.

I pray that we all can live at peace with one another, love each other, even if we disagree.

But it will only happen because of the love of God in and through Jesus Christ.

It starts with God and flows to his people through the Means of Grace.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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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

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The Family

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
Ephesians 3:14

Today is the last day of the current school year at St. Matthew Lutheran Church & School. I’ve been teaching religion classes for students in the first through sixth grade all year. It has been wonderful teaching these young brothers and sisters in Christ about Jesus, God, and the Bible.

On the last day of each school year – I’ve been a pastor in a church with a Lutheran School for 24 of my 26 years of being a pastor – I cannot help but think of my last day of school when I finished my seventh-grade year.

For my seventh-grade year, I had transferred from a Lutheran school to a public school because the Lutheran church we had been members of left The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. We transferred to another church but that church didn’t have a Lutheran school. So, I went to Gavin Central in Ingleside, Illinois for my seventh-grade year.

I enjoyed it, mostly. I missed having daily religion classes and weekly chapels. But it was okay otherwise. I made some new friends and I liked my teachers.

But something when a little haywire in my head on the last day of school. I don’t know why and I don’t think I can even explain it, but I got it in my head that I should defend the Chicago White Sox against Chicago Cub fans, especially one particular Cub fan named Ricky.

I guess when you turn thirteen years old, some gland in your body pumps crazy juice into your blood and it turned part of my brain into mush!

I challenge Ricky to a fight and we met after the last day of school outside to have our showdown – White Sox fan versus Cub fan.

Dumb, right?

By the way, the Cubs beat the White Sox handily that day!

The good news is that Ricky and I became friends after that and still keep in touch on Facebook!

I tell this story to make the point that no matter who you are, you are family. And so, it is dumb to fight, especially over dumb things!

St. Paul writes to the cultural crossroads church in the city of Ephesus and makes the same point.

Our Father in heaven – the one true God – is the Father of all people and so we are all family!

St. Paul makes this point in an interesting way by saying that he bows before the “Father” from whom every “family” is named. Both “Father” and “family” are similar related words in the original language.

The point is that we are not strangers here on earth. We are all children of the heavenly Father.

And God the Father calls us all to the one family we call the Church. Through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are made members of the Church and brothers and sisters in Christ!

This is why we should bow our knees in prayer for each other. But what do we pray for?

We pray for strength. We pray that our brothers and sisters in Christ would be strengthened in their faith. And they are praying for the same thing in us!

As we kneel in prayer before our Father we pray for our family that we will know our Father ever more deeply.

The answer to these prayers is nearer to us than we might realize. It is as near to us as the Bible is near to our hand!

As we pray for our family to be strengthened with power through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit uses the Means of Grace – Word and Sacrament – to answer that prayer!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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