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And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Mark 10:2-12 (ESV)

 

Sklerokardia, hardness of heart was the reason Moses acquiesced to write a soft divorce law into the legal code of ancient Israel. Of all the tough and strange laws Moses proposed this is the only objection mentioned and, according to Jesus, it was a straight argument against God’s design.

 

The disciples give us a clue as to what went on in their ancestors’ hearts when they responded to Jesus’ answer on divorce with, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” Matthew 19:10 (ESV). “Too hard,” they cried, “What if s/he turns out to a bum/ette? Or a nag? Or worse?” “That’s just not realistic!” Contrary to Moses, Jesus didn’t budge. Keep in mind that marriages in Jesus time were arranged marriages.

 

The difference between a hard and tender heart is amazing. One will keep track of every offense the other won’t even remember. One will be stuck on self while other serves. One will build bulwarks of defenses and excuses the other keeps trying. One will refuse to be merciful and tender the other refuses to give up on faith, hope, and love. One will cry, “Too hard!” the other will dare to move mountains. No wonder the wisdom book of the Bible  tells us to, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (and marriage)” Proverbs 4:23 (NLT2, parenthesis mine), and Jesus described “… from the (unguarded, hard) heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” Matthew 15:19 (NLT2, parenthesis mine).

“S/he won’t change!” “What’s the use?” “Believe me, I tried.” “I don’t love him/her anymore.” “There are no feelings left.” “I don’t know if we were ever really meant to be together.” Words spoken on the way out, words that originate from a hard heart. Words that say more about the person saying them than the one s/he is talking about, words that reveal much about their faith and their heart.

Isn’t it interesting that God is so inflexible about permitting us to walk out of a marriage? The most intimate of human relationships is meant to last, to reflect Christlikeness like no other relationship (Ephesians 5:22-33), to shape our hearts, our love to be like Christ’s.

Hard hearts don’t have to stay hard, although they surely want to be. A good place to start is to pray, “O God, please change my hard heart,” and follow that with the most loving action towards whom your heart has grown heart without expecting a particular response, and then do it again, and again, and …

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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“And they cast lots for them …” Acts 1:26 (ESV)

They set some criteria, prayed, and drew straws. If you are a church-going person, I imagine, you would be fairly familiar and comfortable with the first two in making a decision or appointing the right person for a leadership position. But then to wrap it up and make it official by drawing a name out of a hat?

Maybe you need a little more information on what happened there at the First Church of Jerusalem? Jesus had chosen twelve Apostles. One of them, Judas Iscariot, turned on him, betrayed him, and killed himself. This left a vacancy and they needed a replacement. Peter, himself being an Apostle, brought up the issue to the whole church (a congregation of about 120 faithful believers). The replacement candidate needed to meet certain criteria which qualified two people. So, who should they pick? That’s when they prayed, asking God to make his will clear to them, and then drew lots to decide between the two.

Do you think it would’ve been better for them to have a vote? Maybe not. Think about it, drawing names took all the politics out of the decision, no personal preferences or connections coming into play, no election winners and losers, and no blaming if the person made mistakes afterward.

What is equally interesting is that they only asked who qualified. They didn’t say, “All who qualify and want to, please raise your hand.” Whoever qualified, their names went into the hat. Keep in mind that this appointment would radically alter the life of the one chosen, they were conferring major and life-long responsibility. It seems, they considered the will of God and the need of the body of Christ (the church) as vastly more important than the personal implications for those who qualified. I dare say this is neither lukewarm Jesus-following nor casual church-membership. Makes me think of what Winfield S. Weeden penned, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give.”

“And the lot fell to Matthias, …” We are not told how he felt about it. For us, in our culture, in our day how we feel about it is important, so important that it is major criteria in our decision making, in what we are willing or unwilling to do. Maybe, this is why we struggle so often with our lot in life. How do we have to feel about the will of God before it is right? Before we are willing to embrace it? Matthias obviously thought the will of God and the need of Jesus love (the church, Ephesians 5:24) were much more important than his feelings, his fears, his reservations, his preferences, and his plans.

“Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus …” the other qualified candidate wasn’t chosen. He had three names; seems like he was better known, maybe more popular. The lot didn’t ask about his feelings either. No word on how he took it, how he felt about it, but we do not hear about any stink following Matthias’ appointment, no jealousy, no bitterness, no complaining. What we do know is that he was willing, that the will of God and Jesus’ church were so important to him that he did not shrink back from what God wanted and the church needed.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

It is tough to be merciful with a hard heart and it is impossible to be godly and Christlike with a hard heart.

It is a lot easier to accuse everyone else of wrong, of hardness of heart than to address our own heart condition.

At the Sabbath (church) service they were hoping Jesus would do something they could nail him on (sad). You can be sure your heart is hard when you’re waiting for people to mess up. What would he do for the man with the crippled hand? Would he break the man-made Sabbath interpretations and regulations? If he did, they were ready to pounce, to accuse, to raise a stink – something hard hearts love to do.

Jesus didn’t disappoint, in fact, he called the disabled man up front, had him stretch out his crippled hand (the thing he was hiding) for all to see, and healed him. However, before doing so he asked a question, “Is it lawful on Sabbath to do good or to harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). That’s an easy question with an easy answer, but they didn’t want to answer, hard hearts hate to be exposed to be cornered, to answer questions that prove them wrong.

Their hardness of heart made Jesus angry and it grieved him. They were willing to let a man stay crippled for the sake of their man-made rules, their authority to enforce them, and their way of life. You know your heart is hard when there is an opportunity to do good and show compassion and you bypass it not because God’s law is hindering you, but because you love your own way, rules, opinions, and politics more.

Jesus healed the crippled man. The Synagogue should’ve exploded with cheers and praise, but hard hearts have a hard time cheering for those who expose them, even when they do incredible good. Instead, there is an eerie silence in the synagogue following the healing. I have to believe there were some who wanted to cheer and clap, but, to their shame, they let themselves be held in check by the hard hearts of their leaders. They were waiting to see what their leaders, their group would do and then, regrettably, fell in line with the silence when “Hallelujahs” were in order. Silence produced by hardness of heart is never good.

Rather than change those religious hard hearts “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” Mark 3:6 (NIV). Hard hearts find each and encourage each other (as do tender hearts). Can you see Jesus at any border hiding behind man-made rules? Would Christ applaud Captain Carola Rackete who steered Sea-Watch 3 filled with refugees into an Italian harbor although she was ordered not to and was promptly arrested? Who have you been criticizing, deploring, so much so that you can longer see any good they do? Are you staying silent both in the face of wrong and good because that is not what your group, your party, opposes and does not cheer? Towards whom do you have a hard heart?

Porosis is the Greek word used here by Mark. They had porosis of the heart, “moral ossification” (Robertson), the hardening of muscle tissue, meaning that which was meant to be soft became hard. The other word used in the New Testament for hardness of heart is sklerokardia. Maybe you have heard of osteoporosis – bones becoming brittle or arteriosclerosis – hardening/thickening of the arteries. You can go to the doctor for these conditions, although they are not necessarily easy to treat. Who do you go to with hardness of heart? God. You and I can trust him when he says, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT2).

Don’t live another week with hardness of heart.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

“On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote)

Coming back from a week of camping we drove past the heliport on the Lake Don Pedro dam. The Medi-Flight chopper, ambulance, and fire truck were all there. I found out later they were airlifting out a young person in dire condition. I am sure that for her family the day turned out nothing like they thought it would.

I made three visits (pastoral calls) on Tuesday. The first, to see a man who lost his wife of many years. The second, to see a lady who is dying and her husband who is taking care of her. The third, to see a man who’d just come back from a stint in the hospital. Things have not turned out like they hoped they would. All their plans and hopes have been interrupted, changed, permanently, and uninvited.

We know life is fragile, that it can turn on a dime, be completely altered in a split second, tear our hearts out, pay no attention to our plans, demolish our dreams, assign us paths we do not want to travel, and dish us up with more sorrow grief than we can bear. We long for permanence, for unchanging ground, but our reality is we live on the ever-shifting sand of a beach constantly moving in the daily ebb and flow, subject to sunshine and rain, gentle breezes and hurricane winds.

Susie and I pay for health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, life insurance (Which is really death insurance since it doesn’t kick in unless you die. But I suppose calling it that is not good for marketing), and maybe soon long-term care insurance. The hope is that we will not have to file claims, but the reality is that except for the life insurance we have had to use them all and were glad and grateful that we were insured because otherwise, things would have been even worse, and we would be flat broke. But none of these insurance policies have protected us from tragedy, from chaos, having to change our plans, from having to adapt and cope.

Wise women and men work hard at finding and embracing the truths, laws, principles, and ways that create the most stability, promote peace, and bring blessing. They also live without any illusions of being exempt from mortality and the unpredictability of life. And, they embrace God, who is permanent – eternal, unchanging – immutable, and perfect – holy. He alone can make eternal guarantees and sure promises. Only he can change the impermanent and mortal into the everlasting. No one else can save us from our human dilemmas, satisfy our thirst for permanence, and anchor our souls now and forever. Hear and respond to the words of Jesus, the Son of God, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30):

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (NLT2)

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth… And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT2)

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. John 11:25-26 (NLT2)           

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

It was looking forward to going fishing between the spillway of Union Lake and the inlet of Utica Lake. Everything looked perfect, the weather could not have been better, the scenery spectacular, my company, Susie, the best. And then, overnight, my night crawlers had all died. Next, I lost my favorite spinner. This was followed by the tip of my pole breaking. Finally, the coup de gras to my fishing adventure was delivered by a big red ant biting me where no man should be bitten. It might be a long while before I’ll try fishing again.

I hauled my severely humbled and dejected self back to where Susie was sitting on a rock. She was having a marvelous time taking pictures, and, because for some reason there was outstanding cell reception, she was sending them to her favorite people. In the background, I could hear all of the creatures of the forest snickering, and the osprey circling overhead was grinning from one end of its beak to the other. When I told Susie about my fishing disaster she, you guessed it, burst out laughing. She wasn’t about to join my pity-party. Good for her, I didn’t need pity, I needed perspective.

You can go fishing with self-pity, put that limp worm into enough spots, repeat your saga to enough people, and sooner or later someone will bite, feel really sorry for you, allow you, even if it is utterly trivial, to wallow in your misfortune. But you won’t be helped by it, you’ll get stuck in a twisted reality, you’ll continue to circle around yourself and miss the chance to change, to grow, to see the glorious, to laugh.

Self-pity has no grit, it speaks about ant bites like they’re shark bites. Jesus, encountering a man who had been lame for 38 years (certainly immeasurably more serious than sport fishing mishaps) asked him, “Do you wish to get well?” To which the lame man replied with a statement of self-pity and resignation (John 5:1-15). Jesus didn’t take the bait, instead, he told him, “Get up and walk.” The lame man had to make a decision, continue in his self-pity or trust what Jesus just told him. It is possible to drag around on the ground with two perfectly healthy legs.

Jeremiah the prophet was feeling sorry for himself. God answered him not quite how we would expect, he completely ignored Jeremiah’s dangling worm of self-pity, “If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses? If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan? Even your brothers, members of your own family, have turned against you. They plot and raise complaints against you. Do not trust them, no matter how pleasantly they speak” Jeremiah 12:5-6 (NLT2). Can you feel God’s empathy? Sounds more like, “Suck it up, it’ll get worse.” Obviously, God didn’t think pity was Jeremiah’s need for the moment, but he did need perspective.

Elijah the prophet went from an incredible victory and acts of faith to the depth of despair and wallowed in self-pity. “I am all alone,” he told himself and God twice. God’s response, “What are you doing here?” (2 Kings 19:1-18), “You are not alone, there are 7000 others faithful to me.” Never mind, that God and his angels were right there with him, providing, taking care of him.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will. Mark 14:36 (HCSB)

Jesus’ entire life was about doing God’s, his Father’s will. Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ we are obviously called to do the same, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” John 20:21 (NLT2), Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did” 1 John 2:6 (NLT2).

Every time we pray, and we should pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17), we are meant to concern ourselves with God’s honor, God’s will, and God’s kingdom before anything else, Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …” Matthew 6:9-10 (ESV). But how often are our prayers centered on our families, our health, our problems, our frustrations, and our needs?

How can you and I grow into Jesus’ shoes when it comes to letting go of what we want, what we feel is best, from circling too much around ourselves? How do we get to the place where, although everything inside of us screams, “God get me out of this,” we pray, Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will”?

One absolutely necessary step is a commitment to the general will of God. There are things we know to be the will of God regardless of where we live, the positions we hold, the circumstances we find ourselves in, and the times we live in. Our best source for knowing the general will of God is the written word of God, the Bible.

Through the Bible, we learn that it is God’s will for us to be loving, kind, merciful, generous, hospitable, peaceful, forgiving, hard-working, patient, honest, … The scriptures tell us to be men and women of prayer, to pursue godly wisdom, to be active and committed to the church (Christ’s body), to serve others, to do good, to be unselfish, to care about justice and the poor, to worship, to learn the things of God, to use our skills and abilities to serve God and our neighbors, to be careful with what comes out of our mouths, to be grateful, to be witnesses for Christ, and much much more. You and I can be certain that all of these are God’s will. I don’t have to ask God, “Do you want me to be kind to this person?” or, “Do I have to care about her?” What I might end up praying though is, “He is driving me crazy Father, and I don’t know how much more of his rudeness I can take. I need your help Lord in maintaining and showing kindness to him.”

Let’s assume you have been praying for God to reveal to you his specific will in regard to a new job offer that would help you take care of your family better, and you got the job. The next Sunday you come to church thanking and praising God, testifying of his goodness, blown away how he worked it all out. Then on Monday you go to your new job and you immediately join in the gossip, you tell your first lie, you are rude and excuse it as setting boundaries, you spend an hour of company time doing various things on your smartphone, and finally you leave early. How long do you think it will take for your coworkers to believe that you are all about the honor of God, the will of God, and the kingdom of God? What are the chances that when things are really tough and you have a lot on the line you will cry out, “God, not what I will, but what you will”?

If we are going to become good at doing God’s will then we have to be men and women who are committed to knowing and doing God’s general will. This is the starting point. This is what will strengthen us in the battle of wills. This is what will grow in us a delight for God’s will. This will help us in discerning God’s specific will because the specific will of God will always entail doing the general will of God. Jesus practiced his Father’s general will for thirty years. He won innumerable small battles regarding Gods general will long before he fought and won his ultimate battle of wills in the Garden of Gethsemane. I believe we are both wise and will benefit from doing the same.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will. Mark 14:36 (HCSB)

We like it when things go according to our own way, plans, and desires, and when they don’t, we wish they would, complain, grow resentful, even bitter. Underlying this is the notion that the epitome of success is to have both the freedom and resources to do whatever we want to, to be able to grant our hearts desires free reign.

Interestingly, James in his letter, is especially hard on exactly those who have the means, the power, and the freedom to plan and do as they wish, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:13-17 (ESV). This kind of freedom, affluence, and opportunity is what we consider success and often call blessing, but it is also riddled with temptation:

  • The temptation to hold onto a wrong perspective of life.
  • The temptation to operate apart from, independently of God.
  • The temptation to be unconcerned about God’s will.
  • The temptation to be proud and arrogant, to overestimate ourselves.
  • The temptation to give ourselves too much credit.
  • The temptation to elevate doing our own thing over the right thing.

When we give in to these temptations, we forget that:

  • Life is about more than making a profit.
  • We do not control the future.
  • The importance of God and the doing of his will.
  • The very limited time we have to do what is right.
  • That we are prone to do evil.
  • Sin consists of both commission and omission.

The Apostle Paul cautioned the Galatian Christians, It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. Galatians 5:13 (MSG)  

Heavenly Father,

Hallowed be your name. Your will be done. Forgive us when we are consumed with our own honor, our own plans, our own comfort, that which both profits and pleases us most. Forgive us when we concern ourselves with your honor and will last and not first, when we treat you like an insurance or an emergency call station. Help us to commit our work and plans to you, to rely on you to establish us, to anchor ourselves, our plans, and all we do in your purposes (Proverbs 16:3, 9:21). Strengthen us when we are conflicted between what we want and what we know your will is, to, in that moment, be able to deny ourselves and trust you fully. Because we know only your kingdom will endure, you alone hold all power, and only you are fully deserving of all glory. Amen

Love you, Pastor Hans

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