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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Picking a Team

[Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve.
Luke 6:12-13

Putting a team together is not the easiest thing to do.

In gym class, you would just line everyone up and have them count “1” and “2” and the “ones” would be on one team and the “twos” would be on the other.

On the playground the two best athletes – or the two most popular kids – would self-designate as captains and then begin to pick, one by one, who would be on their teams. And we’ve all heard stories – or experienced it first-hand – of being picked last. “You take him.” “No, you can have him.”

In the sixth grade, I felt the joy of being picked first for a basketball game. Of course, I was one of the tallest kids in sixth grade. But I was only picked first that one time. Because after that game it became abundantly clear that I was, at best, a mediocre player.

Serving as a pastor in a congregation, I don’t counsel the leadership of a church to pick people to serve in ministry this way at all!

When they want to call a new teacher, youth director, or a second pastor, I counsel them to put together a call committee, have them gather information and paperwork on several candidates, and set up interviews with these candidates.

But the most important thing I have them do – and the very first thing I have such a committee do – is pray.

Prayer in such a circumstance has at least two outcomes. One of them is that it tends to align the hearts of the committee into the same direction and purpose. Another is to help them understand that they are instruments of the Holy Spirit who is the one really doing the calling.

Like most, if not all, areas of the church, the Holy Spirit puts exactly who he wants in each position at that time. We the people of the church don’t always understand what the Holy Spirit understands, which is why prayer before hand is so important. As a calling body we need to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and we need the Holy Spirit to put all of us on the same page, his page!

Early on in Jesus’ ministry, he would set apart twelve men to be his core group of disciples/apostles.

They would be “disciples” in that they would be learners and he would be their teacher (“rabbi”). They would be “apostles” in that they would be sent by Jesus first into Israel and then into the entire world to proclaim the Gospel.

Of all the people who followed Jesus – and there would be hundreds by the end of his earthly ministry – how would he choose twelve?

The Gospel of Luke tells us specifically that Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.”

He prayed all night long about the twelve men he would choose as his disciples/apostles.

All night!

When a congregation’s call committee gets frustrated that the right person just doesn’t seem to be coming along in which to fill a vacant ministry position, remember that even the Son of God took an entire night to pray about his vacancies!

The Holy Spirit chose Jesus’ twelve men and he will also guide you in his choice for your positions! He knows exactly who is best to fill that position and we need to trust the Holy Spirit!

Make that your starting prayer!

©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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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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