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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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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D-Day +26,657 (Post Updated)

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Image result for d-day73 years ago in 1944, on June 6, 156,000 Allied soldiers – the bulk of which were made up of American and British forces – made amphibious and air landings on Normandy, France. Their task was to drive German forces away from the shore in order to obtain a foothold in Europe from which to win back Europe from Nazi, Germany. Movies such as “The Longest day” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and TV shows such as “Band of Brothers” have brought the stories of D-Day to my generation.

But movies and such can only convey so much truth. There are very, very few people today who were actually there to tell their story of D-Day. The number grows smaller every day. In this regard we can be thankful for the movies, TV shows and books in order to keep the story alive so that we can never forget.

And we should not forget. Not because so many heroic things were done during the war. And certainly not because war is glamorous or a glorious adventure. No, we should never forget for at least two reasons. One: men and women sacrificed themselves for a cause greater than themselves. Men like my grandfather who would survive D-Day and men like my great uncle who died on Iwo Jima. Whether we agree or not with why they fought in war, we should not forget their honor, their integrity, nor their sacrifice. The second reason we should not forget is so that we understand what war is all about. It is not something to be entered into lightly or inadvisdedly. It has been said that war is hell.

But is that true? Here’s a quote from the M*A*S*H TV series (written by Burt Prelutsky):

Hawkeye: War isn’t hell. War is war and hell is hell, and of the two war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Simple, Father. Tell me, who goes to hell?
Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in hell. But war is chock full of them. Little kids, cripples, old ladies, in fact, except for a few of the brass almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

War is ugly. War is dirty. It is not an adventure to be sought out, but rather sometimes a necessary fight to overcome evil. I believe it is to be avoided if at all possible.

But I also believe that sometimes it cannot be avoided. No, war is not hell. But as bad as it is, war is not as bad as hell, because all wars come to an end eventually. Hell goes on for eternity. But like Hawkeye says, there are no innocents in hell. In fact, there doesn’t have to be any human in hell. It can be avoided. There is a way out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born, lived, died, rose again and ascended to save every human being from sin, death (hell), and the power of the devil (for whom hell was created in the first place). As we remember the men and women who sacrificed 73 years ago on what was called “D-Day” – let us also remember that Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us on the cross to save us from our sins.

Book Review: The Lost Book of the Grail

I just finished listened to an unabridged audio version of Charlie Lovett’s The Lost Book of the Grail, read by Charles Armstrong

Arthur Prescott is happiest when surrounded by the ancient books and manuscripts of the Barchester Cathedral library. Increasingly, he feels like a fish out of water among the concrete buildings of the University of Barchester, where he works as an English professor. His one respite is his time spent nestled in the library, nurturing his secret obsession with the Holy Grail and researching his perennially unfinished guidebook to the medieval cathedral.

But when a beautiful young American named Bethany Davis arrives in Barchester charged with the task of digitizing the library’s manuscripts, Arthur’s tranquility is broken. Appalled by the threat modern technology poses to the library he loves, he sets out to thwart Bethany, only to find in her a kindred spirit with a similar love for knowledge and books—and a fellow Grail fanatic.

Bethany soon joins Arthur in a quest to find the lost Book of Ewolda, the ancient manuscript telling the story of the cathedral’s founder. And when the future of the cathedral itself is threatened, Arthur and Bethany’s search takes on grave importance, leading the pair to discover secrets about the cathedral, about the Grail, and about themselves.

– From Amazon.com’s page for The Lost Book of the Grail.

I’ve always loved stories of King Author and especially the parts of the story that relate to the Holy Grail. I first read Idylls of the King in high school – thanks to my beloved English literature teacher, Hazel Fish – and that led me to read as much about the story of Arthur and the grail as I could.

Charlie Lovett weaves a tapestry of characters that makes this story more than just a “find the Holy Grail” adventure.

In fact, it is the characters that makes this story so intriguing. Lovett’s uses the depth of the English country side and adds the fun of decoding hidden secrets in ancient manuscripts.

What I loved about this story, however, was Lovett’s fair dealing with different branches of Christianity.

Especially beautiful is the hero of the story – Arthur Prescott’s – struggle with faith. He feels an intimate connection to the liturgy of the Church but struggles in believing in God.

He goes to Compline, Evening Prayer, and is best friends with one of the local clergy, but cannot bring himself to take the final steps in expressing faith in God.

His search for the Holy Grail becomes a search for himself, his faith, God, and his purpose in life – which is a story as old as the Christian Church!

I highly recommend this story for anyone who loves Grail lore, a mystery, adventure, and the quest for faith.

©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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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

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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