Book Review: The Search for God and Guinness

I recently listened to an unabridged audio version of Stephen Mansfield’s book. I actually stumbled across it looking through the “Biography” section of my library’s online collection.

As a pastor, I’m interested in God (that should come as no surprise).

And when I saw the word “God” on the cover alongside a pint of Guinness Extra Stout, I was intrigued.

A pint of Guinness on tap is still, by far, the best tasting beer I have ever experienced. And I’m not alone in this. It is estimated that over 10 million pints of Guinness Stout (or porter) are enjoyed every day.

I’ve enjoyed Guinness for over 25 years. But even I was dumbfounded to find out that the Guinness story is over 250 years old!

Stephen Mansfield – who admits he’s not a beer drinker – dives deep into the history of beer (which goes back over 6000 years) to set the stage for the Guinness story.

This story has in its roots the history of the Church, particularly the Reformation, and the social concerns – and needs – of 18th and 19th Century Great Britain.

What intrigued me the most was the reach Arthur Guinness – the founding father of the brand – had in subsequent generations.

His Christian faith was the foundation of all that he did – from brewing beer (picking up on Martin Luther’s doctrine of Christian vocation) to “loving God and loving neighbor” (see Matthew 22:36-40).

So much so that not only did sons and grandchildren follow in his brewing footsteps, but also became doctors, medical missionaries, and clergymen.

While Mansfield’s book is an interesting history and biography of a man and his brewing empire, it is also an intriguing book on the formation of faith within a man’s family.

I highly recommend Stephen Mansfield’s In Search For God and Guinness.

Independence

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

What was going through his mind after the fact? Samuel Adams, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Josiah Bartlett and 52 others put their signatures to a document that for over 350 million people today is a symbol of freedom and independence. But 241 years ago, it could just as easily have been their death sentence – and for several that is exactly what it was.

The Declaration of Independence. A piece of paper. Fragile. Easily destroyed. Extraordinary measures are taken today to preserve it. In the end, these measures will prove unsuccessful, as they must with anything made of such fragile stock. We’ve enshrined the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives in Washington D.C. But it is the power of the idea that gave – and continues to give – life to these words of Thomas Jefferson so long ago.

Something much more powerful is enshrined in the heart of the Christian. Not words written with ink on parchment but life written in blood on the heart and soul.

Our independence from sin, death and the power of the devil – paid for by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – is the power of the Christian’s life. Our individual independence comes in the words “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The lives that were freed from England with the Declaration of Independence were now lives full of responsibility. Two wars would be fought against England because of the Declaration. It is a fact that freedom is never free.

Our freedom from sin is a completely free gift from God (grace) but it is not without cost. It cost the life of the Son of God. Now a life lived for God is a life full of responsibility.

We live in God’s Kingdom, sharing the Good News about Jesus, doing the things that need to be done – not to get to heaven, but because we are going to heaven!

As we celebrate our nation’s independence, let us not look at this as a “midsummer respite” with nine more weeks of summer left. Rather, let us give thanks to God for that independence. In the freedom given us as citizens, let us exercise the freedom of religion (not from religion) and share the Good News about Jesus that gives us independence from sin through his death and resurrection.


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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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Guard the Good Deposit

By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
2 Timothy 1:14

During my senior year of high school, I worked as a “utility clerk” at a local grocery store. (“Utility Clerk” is just a fancy name for “bagger.”)

Part of my work was to receive and then sort “pop bottles” (“pop” is the Chicago way of saying “soda pop” as in cola, white soda, cream soda, root beer, etc.).

The empty glass pop bottles were brought into the store because there was a 10¢ “deposit” on each bottle.

You have to be of a certain age and generation to know what and why this was. It was the 1980’s and when you bought an 8-pack of cola, root beer, etc., you were charge an extra 80¢ but you would get that money back when you brought the empties back (intact, of course).

That extra 10¢ was the deposit. You gave the store that money to use. But then they returned it to you when you requested it back (by bringing back the empty bottles).

The “good deposit” in today’s Scripture text is the Gospel. But not just the Gospel as in “the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension” of Jesus for our salvation. It is the Gospel in a wider sense, meaning what we believe, teach, and confess to the entire world.

St. Paul, in his two letters to Timothy, tells him to “guard the deposit” (1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Timothy 1:14).

What Paul is encouraging Timothy to do is to continue the work of the Gospel with which he has been entrusted.

Paul has been entrusted with the same deposit. But as he writes these letters to Timothy, he is apparently closer to physical death and the time when the deposit will be returned to God.

Which brings us to an interesting point about the Gospel in this wider sense.

God has deposited the Gospel in us. Out of his fatherly divine goodness and mercy he has saved us from all our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus deposited this Gospel in us in order to “go and make disciples of all nations” (see Matthew 28:19-20).

Here’s where it might get a little uncomfortable.

God saves us by grace alone through faith alone. There is nothing we do or don’t do in order to merit this salvation.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t do something.

It isn’t enough to just think we are saved by grace alone through faith alone and we don’t have to do anything at all – even go to worship, read the Bible, participate in Bible studies with other Christians, have daily devotions, or even pray regularly (that is, without ceasing – see 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

It is very “fashionable” today to berate going to church, being a part of a congregation, and the like, as “religious” and, therefore, not what Jesus came to give us. This is nothing but a heinous heresy that will doom many to hell unless corrected!

When Paul tells Timothy – and us – to “guard the good deposit” he is telling him – and us – to use the Gospel as it was intended to be used.

He is telling us to proclaim it through our words, our actions, and our very lives.

He is telling us to live the Gospel 24/7/365.

Sound hard? It is actually impossible. Which is why Paul prefaces his words with “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us….

It is impossible for us by ourselves. But, as God’s Word says, “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 and see Matthew 19:26).

Because the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we can “guard the good deposit” and do the work that God has entrusted us with.

But we need to actually do the work! Not in order to be saved, but because we are saved!

Almighty God, you have called your people to guard the good deposit of the Gospel, which is that we are reconciled to yourself through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Grant that by your Holy Spirit we may 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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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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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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True Man Podcast

I recently sat down with Craig DeMartino and he shared his incredible story of tragedy and triumph.

You can hear him tell his story on the True Man Podcast.

A Visit with Craig DeMartino – Part 1

A Visit with Craig DeMartino – Part 2

A Visit with Craig DeMartino – Part 3

True Man Podcast home.

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

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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

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