Feed His Sheep

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
John 21:15

For the last couple of devotions, the Scripture readings have dealt with God miraculously feeding his people through ordinary means – namely, bread and fish.

Today’s Scripture text also talks about feeding. It also includes fish. Jesus and Peter and six other disciples were having a breakfast of roasted fish on the shore of Galilee. It is a couple of weeks after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Up to this point, Jesus has been appearing and disappearing. He’s talked to all his disciples and has been getting them ready for when he will be leaving them by Ascension. They will then be going out into all the world to tell others the Good News about Jesus.

At this breakfast, Jesus and Peter have a heart-to-heart chat.

Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times! After the third time, Peter is practically insulted, certainly hurt.

Jesus doesn’t explain to Peter why he asks him three times. But it doesn’t seem hard to figure out.

A few weeks prior, Peter was in the courtyard of the home of the High Priest Caiaphas and was confronted by three different people who asked him if he knew Jesus.

They didn’t ask Peter if he loved him, only if he simply knew him.

And Peter denied knowing Jesus.

Three times!

There on the shore of Galilee, Jesus “reinstates” Peter with the words, “Feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep.”

Was Jesus changing Peter’s vocation from fisherman to shepherd? Was Jesus really telling Peter to get a flock of ovis aries (sheep)?

No, I don’t think so. After all, history tells us that Peter didn’t become a literal shepherd, but instead he became an Apostle whose mission for the rest of his life was to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus wasn’t telling Peter to become a literal shepherd. But Jesus was telling Peter to feed his flock.

Jesus’ flock would be all Christians from that moment to this very moment. Peter was to take care of these Christians by “feeding” them the Word of God.

He would preach, proclaim, and share the Word of God from the Day of Pentecost till the day he was executed by Rome.

He would continue to “feed” Jesus’ lambs through his two epistles in the Bible and through his story told and re-told countless times down through history.

But another way of looking at this is that Jesus was not telling Peter only to feed his sheep. He was telling the entire Church to do this.

Martin Luther – the 16th Century Reformer – put it this way:

“It does not follow from this passage that a peculiar superiority was given Peter. Christ tells him ‘feed’ (i.e., teach <preach> the Word <the Gospel>, or rule the Church with the Word <the Gospel>), which task Peter has in common with the other apostles” (Power and Primacy of the Pope – Refutation of Roman Arguments, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, pp 298).

This means that even though Jesus was telling Peter to feed and tend, he’s also telling us to do that.

How do we feed and tend Christ’s flock? By using the gifts that God has given us to support the Church. We also tell others about Christ by telling our story of how Christ saved us!

So, let us feed and tend Christ’s flock with all that God has given us!

Prayer

Heavenly Father, you have called your Church to witness that in Christ you have reconciled us to yourself. Grant that by your Holy Spirit we may feed and tend Christ’s sheep so that all who hear the Gospel may receive the gift of salvation; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Stories That Come to Life

[Jesus said], “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
John 5:24

The idea that reading something makes something come alive has been a creative device for a long time.

The computer game Myst has it. The plot of the game is that Atrus has written books/stories and in doing so has created worlds, or ages, as the game calls them. This was one of my favorite games to play back in the 1990’s.

The movie Bedtime Stories, staring Adam Sandler, is about a man who tells stories to his niece and nephew and these stories magically come true.

And the movie Goosebumps, staring Jack Black, is about the author R. L. Stine whose stories actually come to life!

While these are just stories written to amuse and fascinate people, the concept has its roots in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Does that surprise you? I don’t think it should. After all, humans are created in the image of God. Since the Fall, each human carries the echo of God’s image within them, an echo that is loudest in our creativity! Consider this: the greatest stories ever told are about the epic struggle of good versus evil and our favorite stories are when good overcomes evil!

When humans create these kinds of stories, it is an echo of the very true epic battle of Good versus Evil – that is, God overcoming and conquering Satan through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus comes right out and says this in John 5, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.

Jesus is saying that if we hear his word, that will lead us to believe in God and that means we have eternal life!

We hear his word. That word is the Gospel! Jesus’ words are eternal life – as St. Peter said in John 6, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

Hearing the Gospel leads us to believe in God. The God who loves us so much that instead of leaving us in our condemned state because of our sins, he provided the perfect sacrifice to forgive all our sins.

And through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have eternal life.

All because we heard the words of Jesus. All because we read the story or heard the story.

The story that came to life.

The Story that came to give us life!

O Lord God, heavenly Father, by the blessed light of your divine Word you have led me to the knowledge of your Son. Grant me the grace of your Holy Spirit that I may ever walk in the light of your truth and, rejoicing with sure confidence in Christ, my Savior, be brought unto everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Showing Love

[Jesus said:] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
John 14:15

Our family has a pet beagle named Sox. We love Sox.

And if you were to come to our house, here’s how you would know that we love Sox:

We say we love Sox, of course,

But we also feed him every day. We give him water every day. We take him for a walk every day. We give him a bath every week. We take him to the doctor for a checkup every year.

We cuddle with him, we provide a soft warm bed. We have a collar and leash so that he won’t run into traffic chasing a squirrel or a rabbit.

I say I love my dog. I also show that I love my dog.

I say I love Jesus, too.

So how can I show that I love Jesus?

Jesus says that if I love him, I will keep his commandments.

Here are a few ways that I do this:

I love others (see John 13).

I worship him alone (see the Temptation of Jesus in Luke 4).

I tell others about him (see Acts 1).

I talk to him daily in prayer (see Matthew 26).

I read his word (see Psalm 119).

I forgive others as he has forgiven us (see Matthew 6).

All Christians say they love Jesus.

But what does love mean?

It is helpful for me to remember that love is:

A feeling. I can feel love for something or someone and even feel love for Jesus, although not all the time. So I’m grateful that love is not only a feeling.

Love is a choice. I choose to love my wife every day. Happy and successful marriages are those that know that love is a daily choice and not only a feeling that can be fleeting or fluctuate.

I choose to love Jesus. I am given the power to choose to love Jesus by the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace (God’s Word and Sacraments).

Love is action. I love through the things that I do. I think of others first, especially those I love. True love is a selfless act!

Of upmost importance is to remember that we love Jesus because he first loved us (see 1 John 4).

Jesus loved us first – while we were still lost in our sins, Christ died on the cross to forgive those sins (see Romans 5).

We are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to proclaim his love for us. We do this by saying we love Jesus and we do this by showing we love Jesus by loving God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Free Indeed

They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
John 8:33

One of my favorite “old” movies is Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston.

The story of the freeing of the Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt is the basis for the Jewish Passover celebration and is also pivotal to Christianity.

There is no doubt at all that the Children of Israel spent years enslaved to the Egyptians about 1400 years before the birth of Christ.

They also were in a sort-of bondage to the Assyrians and the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians – although not strictly slaves in this case.

By the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire was in control of Israel. Again, not strictly speaking slavery but oppressed nonetheless, as another favorite “old” movie of mine depicts, again starring Charlton Heston – this time in “Ben Hur.”

Knowing this history of Israel, it has always struck me strange that the Jewish opponents of Jesus in John 8 make the proud statement that they “have never been enslaved to anyone.”

Really? Come on, guys!

Surely, they knew their own history. They read about it and celebrate it every spring as Passover!

Of course Jesus is talking about true, spiritual freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

I contend that these Jews also knew what Jesus was talking about – spiritual slavery and freedom.

In that case, they are certainly correct. The covenant of God with Abraham involved his – and his family’s – true spiritual freedom. Even though they would be enslaved by the Egyptians, they were still truly free because of their faith in God.

But that freedom was always rooted in the Savior that God promised to send.

The first promise of that Savior was to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. The promise was passed down through Adam’s family tree via his son Seth. The promise went through Noah and Shem on down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But here’s where Jesus’ opponents got it wrong. They had the culmination of God’s promise of spiritual freedom standing right in front of them and they were rejecting him!

When Jesus says, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” he meant that they should continue in the faith in the Savior – which was him! – as did their ancestors.

Freedom is a wonderful thing. But unless you have an understanding, or experience a lack, of freedom, I don’t think you can truly grasp the magnitude of freedom.

Those of African descent who were brought to the United States as slaves have a distinct perspective on freedom. It was something they always hoped for. And something they rejoiced in finally having when Abraham Lincoln presented his Emancipation Proclamation which directly led to the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution abolishing slavery.

If you have never endured the scourge of slavery, it is hard to understand fully what freedom really is.

But you and I are in bondage. We are in bondage to sin. We are conceived and born in this slavery.

“By his own powers he is not able to aid, do, work, or agree in working anything toward his conversion. He cannot do this fully, halfway, or even in part—not even in the smallest or most trivial part. He is sin’s [slave] and the devil’s captive….” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Art. II – Free Will, or Human Powers – quoted from A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, © 2005, 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO p 521)

Bad news, indeed! But there is good news! Jesus announced and implemented his own Emancipation Proclamation!

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

And that is exactly what Jesus did! The Son of God sets us free! He took our sin and paid the cost of our sin on the cross. He freed us from sin, death, and the devil!

We are free, indeed!

But free to do what?

Free to live. Free to love. Free to proclaim this freedom to other slaves of sin.

Let us continue to proclaim our emancipation from sin in Jesus Christ!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Night and Day

“They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like the heads of grain.”
Job 24:24

Sunrise is one of my favorite times of day. It wasn’t always that way, however.

When I was in junior and senior high, I worked in a bakery on the weekends and over the summers. I fried donuts, made sweet rolls and fresh bread. My boss, Frank, and I would start our “day” at about midnight or so and work till about 9 or 10 in the morning.

In the summer months, we’d then sleep for a couple of hours. I would then hang out with my friends in the afternoon, he would spend time with his family. Sometimes we would get our scuba gear together and go to one of the lakes in Northern Illinois and do a little lake diving. Then we would go to bed at 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. and do it all over again.

When I went off to college, I tended to keep late hours, staying up till midnight or 1:00 a.m. – either going out with friends, hanging out in the dorm, or, occasionally, do homework. I would then sleep in till 9 or 10 in the morning (usually missing my early class).

As I matured and became more responsible, I tended to go to bed earlier in the night and get up earlier in the day. I found that I really liked sunrises!

It’s quiet, except for bird song. It’s an excellent time to have devotions and Bible reading. Today I broadcast a morning devotion live right around sunrise! (You can see these devotions on my Facebook page here).

These are the thoughts that came to mind reading Job 24. In this chapter, Job makes a case for “night and day.” During the night are when wicked people tend to do their work.

Jesus picked up on this theme when he said, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).

Job names three types of wicked people who rather do their deeds at night than during the light of day: the murderer, the thief; the adulterer.

Nighttime is not in and of itself evil. Some excellent things can happen in the nighttime. Jesus gave us the most famous Bible passage of all time – John 3:16 – at night! Jesus rose from the dead “before dawn, while it was still dark” (see John 20:1).

There are times when I like to sit in a room with low lights, a fire in the fireplace, and jazz music on the hi-fi (and if that doesn’t date me, nothing does!).

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Jesus Christ said he is the light of the world. He also said that we are the light of the world. And, in Revelation, we are told that there will be no night in heaven (see Revelation 21:24-25).

This isn’t bad news for those who like night time. This is God’s way of telling us that there will be no evil, no wicked, no sin in heaven. These things are usually done at night (but not always).

What Job is saying in chapter 24 is that just as morning brings an end to night, so God will bring an end to evil, wickedness and sin.

And that is good news, indeed!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Role Models

There are many “role models” for us in the Bible. In the past I’ve led a men’s study on the life of King David. The book of Acts tells us that David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). That is the goal of this True Men Ministries’ men’s study – to find ways that we can become “men after God’s own heart” through the examples in the life of David. Of course, sometimes those examples will be of the nature of “what not to do” – especially his parenting style with Absolom and his infidelity with Bathsheba. I led this Bible study on the life of David because he is very much an “every man.” Most men can see a little of themselves in David.

I’ve also been exploring Peter as a role model for men. Considered a giant in the Church – with over 1 billion Christian considering him as the founder of the Christian Church (as the first pope). One of the things that intrigued me about the Roman Catholic’s view of St. Peter is that they promote him as the first pope and such, but seem to conveniently overlook that Peter had a “foot-shaped mouth.” Peter is a great role model for men today because he had many of the “down to earth” qualities that many men have today. But Peter also was used greatly and powerfully by Christ in this world.

Yet another man who could serve as a role model for us today is John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is a difficult character to present to men as a role model. The reason is because there is very little we know of him that men can really relate well to. Sure, we know from Matthew 3 that his birth was foretold by an angel – but how many men today can claim that? He was born to parents that were quite old – some men may be able to relate to that. We know that he was a relative of a very famous person – and I suppose that some men could sympathize with that situation. But after that, all we know of John the Baptist was that he was supremely faithful to his calling from God to prepare the way for the Messiah. While that is an excellent goal for men today to strive for, it is also very intimidating – leading me and, I’m sure, other men to say, “I could never get to that point in my faith life.”

Yet, I believe John the Baptist could be an excellent role model. This is from an article in the September/October issue of New Man Magazine (and can be found here: http://www.charismamag.com/life/men/5329-an-obedient-man ), written by Roger C. Palms:

John the Baptist came preaching in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah (see Mal. 4:5; Matt. 11:14). He wore hair-skin clothing and ate locusts and honey (see Matt. 3:4). He was a man on a mission sent to prepare the way for Jesus. A lone voice, John cried out not in the big cities but in the desert. He didn’t do it for headlines; he did it to make a people ready to meet Jesus so that “all people will see the salvation sent from God” (Luke 3:6, NLT).

John’s mission was from God, who gave him the message. John knew who he was and who he wasn’t. He said: “‘I am not the Messiah'” (John 1:20) and “‘Someone is coming soon who is far greater than I am'” (Matt. 3:11). John was not a self-promoter.

How many men confuse the message and calling of God with their own sense of importance? If our birth was announced by the angel Gabriel, would we still say, “‘He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less'” (John 3:30)? Or would we go around boasting about who we are? John could have done that. Instead, he was obedient. He stepped aside for Jesus and God gave him the opportunity to baptize and announce the Messiah (see Matt. 3:13-16).John was born of parents who were faithful to God: “Both of them were upright in the sight of God” (Luke 1:6). But both were also old. John was God’s miracle baby for them. In spite of that beginning and the joy he brought to his aged parents, he was never his own. He was a man called by God and he yielded to that call. During his life, John never had the things most men want: a family, house, prestigious job and easy death in his old age.

John’s death came at the whim of a powerful woman and a weak husband who did what she asked. John was beheaded during a rich man’s birthday banquet and his head was brought to the revelers on a platter (see Matt.14:6-12). What did John do to get himself murdered? He told the truth to the king (see Mark 6:17-29).

“Unfair!” we cry out when a person is treated brutally, as John was. Why was he able to do that? How simple it would have been to keep his mouth shut about the king’s morals. There is a way to live an easy, comfortable life—don’t obey God. But John did obey God. He was faithful and for that faithfulness he was killed. John didn’t invite suffering, but he accepted it.

Are you open to the leading of God even if it means that you must become less just as John did? Will it matter to you if your obedience takes you to the desert rather than to a palace? Will you always point people to the Savior? Jesus had something powerful to say about John: “None is greater than John the Baptist'” (Matt. 11:11). What an epitaph for an obedient man. What a selfless man of God. What an example for today’s man.

© 2015 True Men Ministries

Get Back to Christmas

ChristmasMerry Christmas! It is my prayer that as we celebrate today, God would shower His blessings on us in such measure that we will flood our world with His love and peace as we anticipate the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ!

I’ve heard quite a bit lately the sentiment to “get back” to a more real Christmas. By “real” I think many people are thinking “simple” and “less commercial.”

This is a noble pursuit, but I wonder if we really understand just what that might entail. I suspect that it will also lead us to focus on the wrong things about Christmas and its season.

Today, we have gathered together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! We have gathered together in Jesus’ name to worship our God who loves us! That’s about a “real” as Christmas could ever get!

Speaking of getting back” let’s look at the first verse of the Christmas Day Gospel – John 1:1.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. – John 1:1

With John’s Gospel we get all the way back to the Creation! John’s Gospel begins with the same words as the Book of Genesis, “in the beginning.

And look what is there! The first thing God says, according to Genesis 1, is “Let there be light!” There was darkness, and then there was light! Then there was darkness again – the darkness of sin.

But the creative light of God is not so easily dimmed!

On a dark night, over the fields of the little town of Bethlehem many thousands of years after creative light was spoken into existence, the skies exploded again with light!

A joyous light, and a message of song from the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

We sing the same song – as the Gloria in Excelsis – in many of our worship services to remind us that Jesus – the Light of the World – was born to be our substitute. In that sense, every Sunday is a little celebration of Christmas!

A lot of momentous things happen in the dark where, when light shines, it shines very bright.

In the Old Testament:

· The Creation of the World

· The First Passover

· The Victory of Gideon over the Midianites & Amelekites

But even more momentous, in the New Testament:

· The Birth of Jesus Christ

· The Death of Jesus Christ

· The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The reason, I think, that all these momentous things happened “in the dark” – especially the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus – is because darkness is sometimes defined as the absence of light. For a Christian, then, there is no darkness because Christ forever shines in our hearts; we are reminded of this at every baptism and the giving of a candle.

And in the dark, light shines the brightest! This is especially so with the Light of the Word – Jesus Christ!

I’ve got even better news than the light shines on this Christmas morning! The Light comes to each one of you!

Now, you have two choices when it comes to what do to with the Light you receive. 1) Accept Jesus as He comes to you; or 2) reject Him because he doesn’t fit your idea of what the Messiah should be.

There is only one Jesus. And He’s not some good person. He’s not some moral teacher. He’s not some figment of a church’s imagination. He is – and always has been and always will be – the True Son of God! He was before the foundation of the world – which is exactly what John’s Gospel tells us in verse one. He was born of a Virgin Mary, in the family tree of King David and a descendent of Abraham. He lived a perfect life. Yes, tempted to sin as we are, but was, in fact, without sin. Still, He died a sinners death on the cross – also bearing the punishment of God for sin – for us! Three days after His death Jesus rose from the dead. Again, this took place before dawn on the first day of the week (therefore, in the dark!). And He ascended into Heaven with the promise that He would be with us always and would return to take us and all believers to heaven.

That’s who Jesus is. We either accept Him as He is or we reject Him as He is.

We can reject Him by trying to make Jesus into something He isn’t. Just some moral teacher or good person who had the unfortunate luck to get Himself killed. This shouldn’t surprise us, that people reject Jesus because He doesn’t fit their idea of a savior or messiah.

9The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11

It is being done today, isn’t it? It is being done by removing prayer and Bibles from schools. It is being done by making pronouncements that terror happens because God is angry with us. It is done today by dismissing the importance of worship and the fellowship of Bible study.

We have these two choices: accept Jesus as He comes to us (and, in so doing, do what He tells us to do as His followers) or reject Him because He doesn’t fit our idea of a savior or doesn’t fit into our lifestyle.

I give thanks to God that He is forgiving and merciful, and gives us these times of celebration to remember the glory of His Light.

The glory of Jesus as the Light of the Word born on Christmas is that He is full of grace. He was born, lived, died, rose and ascended to give us full, abundant and everlasting life!

And the truth is that He continues to be with us as the Son of God, as our savior from sin, and as our true and dearest friend.

No matter what we do, that grace and that truth remains – because He didn’t come because of anything we did and He doesn’t stay because of anything we do!

I know, we still try to convince ourselves that God loves us because of something we do – whether it is a certain style of worship, or whether is it based on what we give in the offering, or it is because of where we go to church or are a member.

But the truth is that God’s loves you and me in spite of us!

This is the Truth of Christmas. It is, I think, what people mean when they wish we could “get back” to the real meaning of Christmas. For many, the true Light of Christmas is dimmed by all the commercialism we see nowadays.

But this is nothing new.

Centuries ago the Puritans we hear so much about at Thanksgiving thought that they were ruining Christmas with all their pagan rituals. They especially objected to the fact that the holiday usually came on a week day, therefore distracting people, they thought, from the Lord’s Day of Sunday. But they did more than annually complain about it as we do. They took action and got rid of Christmas altogether! In Puritan settlements across 17th century America a law was passed outlawing the celebration of Christmas. The market place was ordered to stay open for business as though it was no special occasion and all violators were prosecuted. It was against the law to even make plum pudding on December 25th. The celebration was not referred to as Yuletide but as fooltide.

So we want to reform Christmas and clean it up, do we? Well, is this how far we want to go? Do we really want to be rid of it altogether? Then will Christmas, as the Puritans thought, be saved from us and our sinful ways. So what if we spend $40 billion annually on presents. Can you think of a better way of spending all that money than on gifts of love? And most of them are just that. And so what if all the lights and tinsel do is create a fairy tale setting that soon disappears as does the so-called Christmas spirit. At least it lets us know, if only for a brief time, what life can be like if we only try.

So let the message ring out this day, not that we are destroying this holy day, but rather, that we can never destroy this day – and instead will receive the Person Who’s birth we celebrate as He comes to us!. Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. Amen.