Gift Giving

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Wages and gifts are two different things.

I realize that statement sounds like it comes from the file of “it goes without saying.”

However, there are some different ideas about gift-giving, so much so that I think it is a good idea to say something!

The different idea of gift giving that I’m talking about is that of reciprocity. That giving a gift to someone obligates the receiver to purchase a gift of commensurate value to reciprocate the gift.

But that isn’t what gift-giving was ever meant to be!

Giving a gift was originally meant to be motivated by the love the giver has for the receiver of the gift!

The greatest gift ever given was that of the forgiveness of sins – and the resultant eternal life – from God to us.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has forgiven our sins and given us eternal life in heaven. And this is a gift.

Not a reward. Not a payment for services rendered. And never meant to be reciprocal.

God did not save us in response to us either being good enough or getting close enough to him first.

It is a gift – indeed, it has to be a gift – because “people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works” (The Augsburg Confession, Article IV Justification, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, p 33).

That is why I believe, teach/preach and confess that “people are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake” (ibid).

In other words, we are saved by grace through faith alone as a completely free gift – to us – from God.

We cannot do anything to earn the gift. Of course, then it wouldn’t be a gift at all, even if we could earn it.

God gives us this gift because he loves us. He forgives that which we did actually earn.

As St. Paul says in Romans 6, “the wages of sin death.”

We earn death and everlasting condemnation because of our sins. Another way of saying this is that a person cannot “do something good and helpful in divine things before his conversion. Because a person is ‘dead in [his] trespasses’ (Ephesians 2:5) before his conversion, there can be no power to work anything good and helpful in divine things” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article II Free Will quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, p 531).

Our sins earn us hell. But thanks be to God that he gives us the free gift of the forgiveness of our sins!

But let us not overlook the truth that while salvation is a free gift, it still has a cost.

It is a free gift to us.

But it cost Jesus everything! He paid the wages of our sins with his sacrificial death on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the dead on the third day!

So, in our own gift giving we can glorify God and proclaim the Gospel by giving gifts freely and without expectation of reciprocity – just as God gave us the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Heavenly Father, God of all grace, govern our hearts that we may never forget your blessings and always thank and praise you for all your goodness in this life until, with all your saints, we praise you eternally in your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©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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One True God

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6

God.

Jehovah.

Allah.

Vishnu.

It doesn’t really matter, right? We all pray to and believe in the same God, we just call him different names.

Right?

Not so much.

There is only one God. He is known by different names, yes. Yahweh. Elohim. El Shaddai. These are all names of the one God in the Old Testament.

But the one God – the only God there really is – has been revealed to us as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jehovah, while a form of Yahweh, is not the one true God if by Jehovah you mean just the God of the Old Testament but reject that Jesus is his only-begotten Son, co-equal with God.  

Allah, which is Arabic for “God” or “The God”, is not the one True God if by Allah you mean just the God of Islam and reject, again, Jesus as his only-begotten Son, co-equal with God.  

Vishnu, which is Sanskrit for “all pervasive,” can certainly describe the one true God but is not the one True God if, again, Jesus is rejected as his only-begotten Son, co-equal with God.  

The point of all this is not to enflame or start a war about whose religion is the right one.

As a Christian I am called by God to love all people. Jesus said it best:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22)

It is out of love that I seek to share the one true God with all people. It would be disingenuous if I were to believe that all religions believe in the same God. They simply do not.

The Christian religion is the only one that proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God that bled and died to forgive all sin. That Jesus Christ rose from the dead three days later and ten days after his ascension sent the Holy Spirit to call us all by the Gospel!

There is only one God. He is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is the name into which we baptize people. This Trinitarian Baptism “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” brings life and salvation to the person being baptized!

This is actually quite comforting, that there is only one God. We don’t have to worry if we believe in the right God! There is only one God revealed to the world. He is revealed to us in his Word.

The comfort is that there is only one Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God and Father of us all.

We don’t have to go searching all over creation for God. We don’t have to wonder if the God we find is the actual correct God.

We can know we have the one true God when we believe in the God that is revealed in the Old and New Testaments. The one true God that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Living Authentically

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
James 1:22

When Jesus walked this earth two thousand years ago, he spoke about the Kingdom of God and loving others. He taught the way to God, which he ultimately revealed to be himself. And he healed, cast out demons, and raised the dead.

To put it more simply, Jesus spoke and then backed up what he spoke about by doing it.

He said to love God and then actually, visibly, loved God. He said to love your neighbor and then actually, visibly loved his neighbors. He said to even love your enemies and then he actually, visibly loved even his enemies, even why they were in the process of killing him!

We are then told to imitate Christ.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

Craig DeMartino climbing in Wonderland of Rocks (Joshua Tree National Park), California (photo by the author).

This past weekend, Craig came to speak out our church. Those who have read this devotion for a long time know of Craig and his story. But if you don’t, you can learn more about Craig here.

During the telling of his story, Craig said something that really hit me in the heart.

He talked about actually living your faith.

I can tell people about God and Jesus and the Gospel. And I do tell people about God and Jesus and the Gospel.

But unless I visibly live the truth of God, Jesus and the Gospel, I’m failing in the Great Commission that Jesus gave me (and all Christians) to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them.

Craig works, plays, and hangs around a lot of different kinds of people. Some are Christians, like he is. Most are not. One of his best friends is actually an atheist. Another is a Mormon.

Craig doesn’t shy away from talking about Jesus and his own faith in Christ with even these friends.

But Craig admits that if he didn’t live his own Christian faith authentically – actually, visibly loving God – then he would not be any kind of witness to Christ, especially with them.

Craig says that these friends watch him very closely. They watch how he goes about their mutual passion for climbing (they are rock climbing partners). But they also watch how Craig treats his wife, is raising his kids, and whether Craig actually goes to church (instead of just talking about it), reads his Bible, and prays.

Living authentically is the phrase that came to mind when Craig was talking about this. And it convicted me. I don’t always live my Christian faith authentically.

Especially in the morning! I was called out on this by a dear brother just recently. “I stopped saying “good morning” to you since you tend to be grumpy in the morning.”

And it is true. I do tend to be grumpy in the morning. And I’m sorry! I apologize to you that has witnessed this in me! And I thank my friend – and God – for pointing this out!

I want to live my Christian faith authentically – at all hours of the day and in front of anyone I meet.

Please pray for me to do this – which I can by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace (God’s Word and Sacraments).

And I’ll pray for you to do this as well.

We’ll live our faith authentically together and I pray that God will change people’s hearts in some way through our actually, visibly, loving God and loving our neighbors!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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An Excellent Wife I

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. Proverbs 31:10

Since the 7th grade I always knew that someday I would be married.

However, I didn’t know who my wife would be or exactly what kind of woman I would marry – at least not until 1990.

That was when my friendship with Nancy grew into so much more!

We had met in 1988 while I was a second-year student at Concordia Seminary. That year, I was joined by four of my closest friends – Kurt, Steve, Mark and Jeff.

These four men, along with myself, formed the core of the music group The Master’s Voice. We had started singing together in 1986 at Concordia Wisconsin. We were a double-quartet acapella group that sang at school functions and around the southeastern Wisconsin area.

Our largest gig as an eight-man group was to sing in Van Horn, Iowa for a District Youth event in the spring of 1987.

In the autumn of 1988 the five of us re-imagined the group as a quintet and we kept the name The Master’s Voice and sang all around the St. Louis, Missouri area.

One of those events was for a youth fundraiser at a church in north St. Louis County and that is when I met Nancy for the first time.

We became friends but that was all we were for a while. Looking back now I see a little more clearly what God was doing in our lives, but at the time I thought we were just two Christian people serving God as best we could – she as a teacher in north county and me a part-time radio guy who was trying to figure out my best seminary career path.

That path led me to take a leave from my studies and move to Nevada for a year. While there, Nancy and I wrote letters back and forth. (Letters then were what email is today. Talking on the telephone was our instant messaging.)

In 1990 I returned to St. Louis and a full-time position at KFUO as a producer and on-air announcer. Of course, Nancy and I ended up getting together and it was then that I realized that God was bringing us closer to together and I was falling in love!

I always knew that someday I would get married. Now I had a name and face to that knowing!

As we dated in 1990, The Master’s Voice was back together for one more year before the other four guys completed their seminary training and would go on to serve as pastors or move on to an advanced degree study.

By this time, the other four guys were married or about to be married. We all had “excellent” wives or wives-to-be at our side as our singing career peaked with the recording of “The Album” at Lutheran Hour Ministries studios in St. Louis.

wedding2In the late spring of 1991 I formally asked Nancy to be my “excellent wife” and in August of that year we were married!

Through my early years, God had been telling me in special and sometimes in unlooked-for ways that I would be married. Through his Holy Word in books like Proverbs and Ephesians, God was telling me what kind of woman he was going to bring into my life.

He was also telling me what kind of relationship I was going to have with my wife. Again, as I look back on all these years together with Nancy – first as friends and then the last 26 years as husband and wife – I see how our marriage has been shaped and nurtured by God to be a reflection of the relationship Jesus Christ has with his bride, the Church.

Our marriage isn’t perfect, but it is an incredible relationship of love, sacrifice, comfort, and encouragement.

And I can honestly say – with all my heart – that my life with Nancy is “far more precious than jewels.”

©2017 True Men Ministries

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