Trust

“Seek me and live … seek the LORD and live … the LORD is his name….”
Amos 5:4, 6, 8

When I sit on a chair, I trust that it will support my weight and not collapse.

But that has happened. Mostly because the chair was broken and ready to fall apart (but partly because I was too heavy for it, too!).

When I turn on the light switch, I trust that the lights in the room will go on. Most of the time they do. But there have been times when the wiring wasn’t correct or the bulb was burned out and flipping the switch did not have its desired effect.

There are some things we trust and count on. We put our faith in them. Things like the support of our family or the love of our spouse.

Still, it is very important to put our ultimate trust in someone who will never, ever let us down.

I’m talking about the Creator of the universe. He is the LORD (Yahweh).

He called into being everything we see (and everything we can’t see except with a microscope or telescope). We can trust him to sustain this universe to the very end.

He also formed you and me – initially from the dust of the earth and the rib of the first man.

God is our Creator. But Adam and Eve rejected God when they listened to Satan instead and then their own desires.

Because of their Fall we are all conceived and born sinners. We also initially reject God.

Some continue to do so all their lives. They put their trust in other things. Some put their trust in gods – like Sikkuth or Kiyyun, Mesopotamia deities of the ancient near east.

Others put their trust in science. Or in the world. Or even in themselves.

But everything else will violate our trust.

Science will. After all, science once told us the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.

The world will violate our trust. Ask those who once trusted in the German Chancellor in the last 1930’s and early 1940’s. Or those who trusted the General Secretary of the Communist Party from the early 1920’s to the early 1950’s.

Even we ourselves will prove to be untrustworthy. Our bodies will age and fail us, our minds can grow dim and fade as well.

If we put our trust in anything but the Creator of the universe, we will be let down.

God does not want that for us. So he sent his Son to be our Savior! Jesus Christ would bear that which causes us to reject God – our sin. Jesus paid the price to buy us back from our sin, from death itself, and from the devil who led us to this untrustworthy path in the beginning.

This is the message that we have been given to proclaim and share with the world.

The prophet Amos proclaims the Law loud and clear in his book of the Bible. And reading just his prophecy is a grim experience.

But there is more to the story! The Law is always grim. But the Gospel is beautiful and comforting!

The Holy Spirit uses both – Law and Gospel – to complete in us that which the prophet Amos calls us – to seek the Lord and live!

This specific chapter of Amos – chapter 5 – warns us to not play at or pretend to trust in the LORD. There is no “going through the motions” of a worship service. That won’t work.

The trust that will truly work is that which comes from faith. Not actions but where the actions start – in the heart.

This is why Amos’ prophecy tells us that the LORD is not delighted in “solemn assemblies” or “burnt offerings and grain offerings.”

These are important, no doubt. God instructs us to worship him. But our trust is not to be in what we do. What we do should flow out of our trust in God.

And we trust in God because Jesus Christ forgives and removes our sin and gives us his righteousness.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us, “justice” can “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (v 24).

©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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The Test

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Job 1:20-22

A good parent let’s his child fail on occasion. A good parent lets a child feel pain, to a reasonable point.

Life is hard and a good parent allows his child to learn this lesson while still loving him completely and as unconditionally as any human can.

A good parent doesn’t like doing this. But does it all the same because it is best for his child.

testing-of-jobGod allows Satan to strike Job down.

Satan uses Sabeans to wipe out Job’s donkeys.

Satan uses lightening to wipe out Job’s sheep.

Satan uses the Chaldeans to wipe out Job’s camels.

Satan uses a tornado to strike Job’s children and all ten were killed at once.

The reason for all this is so that it can be seen clearly that Job believes in God because of faith and not because God had given him lots of stuff.

We know this because we can read the dialog between Satan and God in Job 1:6-12.

God allows Satan to hit Job and hit him hard.

Job’s wealth is gone.

Job’s children are dead.

How would you react?

Job says, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.

At first glance this may appear shallow and callous. As if Job just shrugs his shoulders, as if to say, “Oh well. You win some. You lose some.”

No, this is not what this means. At all!

The complete quote is “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

This is Job saying, “I didn’t bring anything into this world. I’m not going to bring anything with me when I die. My wealth was not mine to be begin with. It was given to me by the Lord and is his to do with as he pleases. Same with my children. They are gifts from God and he has taken them to be with him.” (More on the children in a later devotion).

When Job received this news he grieved the death of his children. He went into a state of mourning (tearing his clothes, shaving his head and falling to the ground).

But also noticed that Job worshiped.

Even after this horrendous loss, Job turns to God. He is sad. He’s angry. And rightly so.

But he doesn’t give up on God.

This is how we need to face all the pain and suffering we will endure in this life.

We can be sad. We can get angry. We can grieve.

But we should never, ever, give up on God.

God loves us. But that doesn’t mean he forbids bad things to happen to us.

In his love for us, God allows Satan to have his “little season” against us. But this is so we can know more deeply how much we love God and how much God loves us.

Which is exactly the reason we have the Book of Job in our Bible. To know these things.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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High Priest of the Home

And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Job 1:5

I’ve been serving the Lord at St. Matthew Lutheran Church & School in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois for over half a decade.

I’m serving with Tim who is the Senior Pastor. We have known each other a lot longer, having served separate parishes in Wisconsin over the years.

I’ve learn a lot from Tim. One of those things is something that Job also teaches us.

head-of-houseIt is about being the high priest of your home.

When a baby or young child is baptized by Tim or myself at St. Matthew we use a baptismal candle at one point in the Rite.

After the baptism, we’ll take a special candle that has been lit from the Paschal Candle (which represents Christ) and hand it to the father of the baptized.

I first heard of this from Tim. “Daddy,” (if it’s a small child) “as the high priest of your home it is your responsibility to raise your child – along with the rest of your family – in the Christian faith.”

It is an awesome responsibility. One I take seriously, even though I hadn’t thought of being a high priest before I observed Tim’s way of administering the Rite of Holy Baptism.

My wife refers to me in the way Luther’s Small Catechism does, as the “head of the household.” But whether “head of the household” or “high priest” it is my responsibility to teach – or have taught – the Christian faith to my children.

Parents have this awesome responsibility of being the first people to share the Christian faith with our children.

While more mature children and adults bear the responsibility of keeping or abandoning their Christian faith, when they are young it is our responsibility as parents.

No one took this responsibility more seriously in the Bible than Job.

After Job’s children would gather for their regular feasts (parties) Job would rise early the following day and perform priestly duties – literally – of sacrifice on behalf of his children.

His concern was that they might have sinned in some way during the party. Loving his children, he would then perform a sacrifice on behalf of his children. He made this a regular practice.

I don’t think Job was doing this despite the lack of faith in his children. I think he was doing this – as someone who feared God and turned away from evil – alongside of his children. I think that they were also God-fearers, that is, faithful to God.

But not being as mature in the faith as Job was, Job continued his fatherly duties and high-priest-of-his-household responsibilities.

Today, a God-fearing father would not perform sacrifices on behalf of his children to atone for their sin. Instead, we who would be God-appointed heads of households would pray for our children, have family devotions, and either bring the younger children to church or make sure they participate in regular worship where they are.

This is part of the reason God blesses fathers with families and is a responsibility we should take very seriously.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Family Man

There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.
Job 1:2-4

In the last devotion I said that Job was an “everyman.” He was just like you and me. And he is. I stand by the statement, as we’re going to explore together in upcoming devotions.

But as I read verses 2-4, Job is a lot like other people, if those other people are the Kennedys, Rockefellers, or some other extremely wealthy family.

Job is rich. Not just rich, Job is “Bill Gates” rich. He has large flocks of sheep, large herds of camels and oxen, and apparently breeds donkeys for profit (that’s how I read that he has 500 female donkeys). Job also employs a large number of servants.

He is called “the greatest of all the people of the east.”

Job lives in the “Land of Uz” which some scholars say is modern day Jordan. He also lived around the time of the Israelite Patriarchs – specifically about five or six generations after Abraham. This would have been about the time that the extended family of Jacob/Israel were living in Egypt, perhaps about the time that they were enslaved by the Egyptians.

So, in this way, Job is not like most of us. He is immensely wealthy.

He also has a large family. Seven sons and three daughters. And they liked to party!

They also were a close knit family, and partied together.

Reading between the lines of these verses, I see two things.

Job was generous with his wealth. He shared it with his family. His sons and daughters benefited from his wealth, as evidenced in their regular party schedule.

Job raised his children in such a way that they genuinely loved each other. They feasted together. There doesn’t seem to be any sibling animosity in his family.

We already read in verse one that Job was a man of faith. He believed in God and did all he could to keep God’s statutes.

Part of living in this faith is to raise a family to also be God-fearers.

Living when he did, Job would have known about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He probably didn’t know them personally, but it is likely he knew people who did.

Job feared the same God (the word for “God” in the Book of Job is “Elohim” which is the same name used in Genesis 1).

Job raised his family to be faithful to God. His own faith he shared by word and example with his children. The evidence of this is that Job’s children genuinely like to be around each other on a regular basis.

As a man of God, I also strive to share my faith with my family.

family-at-crossMy wife and I have devotions and prayer time together each evening. We also lead devotions with our sons at the dinner table every night. We do everything we can to make our schedules work out so that we can have dinner together each evening.

We also bring our sons to worship every week. That includes Bible class most of the time. Sometimes work schedules mess up the Bible class time, but we do not allow them to invade our worship time.

We can do this so far because our sons live with us. When they move out of the house – like our older son has (he’s in college now) – we pray that how we raised them will move them to also fear God.

While our sons probably won’t admit it, I know they actually love each other and want to be around each other. This, too, is evidence that they share the faith I have shared with them.

I’m not wealthy like Job. But I do share the same faith in God as Job and strive to share that faith in the raising of my family, like Job did.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Mentors II

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. Psalm 101:1

Radio station KFUO in St. Louis had the largest classical music library west of the Mississippi River in the United States. I was an announcer at KFUO in the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s.

Working the overnight shift – midnight to 6am – I had a lot of time to peruse th largest classical music library!

It was here that I first came across the music of Richard Souther. The album/disc was “Cross Currents” and while the music was not strictly classical, I was able to incorporate some of the music into my show.

I also listened to his music during my day, it was – and is – that good. “Cross Currents” would eventually reach No. 9 on Billboard’s Top New Age Albums chart. He would also produce and arrange “Vision: The Music Of Hildegard von Bingen”, which reached the top of Billboard’s Classical Crossover chart.

When I started my Christian music show on the internet in the late 1990’s, I contacted Richard via email. We talked back and forth through email and when Facebook came around in the early 2000’s we were able to instant message each other.

We’ve become quite good friends – even though we’ve never actually met each other face to face.

the-prayer-closet300Richard’s music is inspired and inspiring. He has graciously allowed me to use his music for my podcast. I especially like to use his “Prayer Closet” recordings for my personal devotion and prayer time.

I count Richard as one of my mentors in that he has taught me to never give up on my dreams or in using the gifts the Lord Christ has given me.

Richard uses his talents to share the love of Christ. Not only is he an outstanding musician but also as gifted photographer.

Another way that Richard has mentored me was when he was critical ill a few years ago. An accidental illness left it very difficult for him to compose and play music. But he would never give up. Through the prayers and encouragement of his friends and especially his wife, Cyndi, Richard was able to overcome this challenge and continues to make music for people to enjoy and to give all glory to God.

Through the music Richard worships God and helps others worship God. This has been an incredible lesson for me – to be able to use the talents God has given to worship him.

I’ve passed this on to my own sons. They are not musicians, but they are athletes and love sports. And they have been gifted uniquely by God in this area. I’ve been teaching them that they can use their athletic gifts to worship God.

And like Richard, they also can help others see God in them and their gifts. We often pray together that God will use their athletic gifts in order to bring others to Jesus.

If you would like to know more about Richard Souther, go to his website http://richardsouther.com/

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Stained Glass

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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 5:14-16

I have the recurring fantasy that some congregation asks me to help desire their new sanctuary from the ground up.

Not one has, so far. But if they did, here’s what I would say.

Make the footprint in the shape of a cross – like the old cathedrals – with the altar at one end and a baptismal font at the other. People would have to walk past the baptismal font in order to enter the sanctuary. (You can read why here.)

When the people do enter the sanctuary, they will find only one row of pews in the back. Once that row is filled, it automatically moves to the front and another empty row pops up to take its place. This will continue until the sanctuary is full or the service beings. This way, the sanctuary will be full from the front back!

The preacher will deliver his sermon from the pulpit, but if he goes longer than 25 minutes it lowers into the floor!

Okay, so this is a little too fantastical.

But here is one recommendation that I do make in all sincerity.

The lower ten feet of all four walls of the sanctuary should be clear windows. This way, the people can see the world they are sent out into in order to make disciples of all nations. Added bonus! The world can see into the sanctuary and what the people of God are doing when they worship!

in-the-church-10-altar-windowThe upper half of the windows should be beautiful stained glass with pictures that teach or convey the mysteries of God. Like the Nativity, Christ teaching his disciples, healing the sick, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, symbols of the Holy Trinity, the Means of Grace, etc.

And I would have spot lights on the stained glass windows. But not on the outside so the windows can be seen by those inside, but rather the spotlights should be on the inside so the windows can be seen by the world!

Jesus said that we Christians are to be the light of the world. His light in us should shine brightly so that others can see him in us and through us. By the things that we say and do, people should be able to see Jesus Christ!

Yet too often I find myself wanting the spotlight to shine on me instead of out of me. I want to be the center of attention. I want to be noticed. I want accolades and people to like me. I want people to see me and want to be me.

But this is not being the light of the world.  If I’m the center, if the spotlight is on me, then people won’t be glorifying God. They will be glorifying me.

Even Jesus himself said to God “not my will, but your will be done” (Matthew 26).

Everything I do, everything I say, needs to bring the world’s attention to God and not to me. That’s what Jesus meant by telling us to let our light shine.

Because our light is actually his light, it comes from him! Jesus died on the cross to forgive my egotistical, self-centered sin. He took it away and buried it in the tomb.

When Jesus rose from the grave, he gave us his glorious, resurrected, light. By what we do and say, we shine the light of Christ in our lives!

This light is to shine on the world like a stained glass window illuminated from within a sanctuary.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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