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Archive for September, 2017

It looked terrible, totally unappetizing, no way I was going to eat those two large Mason jars filled with canned steelhead. “That’s an awesome gift,” my friend, who knew the giver, “He doesn’t give these to just anybody, and two jars at that.”

“Well, it might be a real special gift, but there is no way I am going to eat that. It looks sick. You can have ‘em.”

“I’m not going to take them unless you taste some,” he said while opening one of the jars. He got two forks and scooped out a big bite with his, “Mmmh, mmmh! that’s good,” he grunted.

So, I reluctantly followed his lead and stabbed myself a little piece, closed my eyes and stuffed it into my mouth, “Wow! That is incredible. You’re not getting this, you can get your own jars,” I informed him, while he just grinned from ear to ear.

I almost gave away a special gift and missed out one of the most delicious things I‘ve ever tasted, simply because I didn’t like the way it looked and because I was I was unwilling to open the jar and give it a try. I can’t tell you how often I have seen the above play out spiritually.

We are meant to grow “in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) after we made commitment to follow him, after we put our faith and trust in Christ to save from our sins, from the power of death, and from the eternal judgment of God. For that growth to take place we must open the food pantry of God’s written word (the Bible), take the lids off the jars we find there, and start eating what is in them.

The good news is that not everything in God’s word looks as unappetizing as those jars of canned steelhead. Peace and joy look pretty good me, as does living without debt, having a clear conscience, being hopeful, good habits, getting a handle on anger, … On the flipside our old self, our old habits, our sinful nature have little appetite for whatever God gives us, delicacy or not. Our old self is perfectly content with both spiritual fast food and junk food, with living according to our old ways, according to our own opinions and preferences, and settling for little or no spiritual growth. James indicts the readers of his letter (including us) for looking at God’s cupboard stocked with stuff to help us grow, only to walk away to eat what we have always eaten, to do what we have always done, “… ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.  But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does” James 1:21-25 (HCSB).

In the immediate context James pulls four jars out of God’s spiritual growth pantry and opens them up while handing you and me a fork. The first jar addresses how we need to deal with anger (1:19-20), the second is about our need for staying spiritually and morally clean (1:21, 27b), the third is about having a godly mouth with Christlike responses (1:26), the fourth jar is meant to help us grow in our responses to people with needs, to people who often forgotten and oppressed (1:27a), and the (1:21&27b).

You can show up Sunday after Sunday and have the preacher tell you about how delicious the stuff in these jars is, you can read your Bible every day and become an expert in reading the labels on the jars, in your small group Bible study you can discuss in great detail the nutrition information on the back of each jar, you can become good at identifying people who are obviously not eating what is in those jars, and yet never put the fork in your mouth yourself.

The way spiritual growth works is that we have to apply what is in the jars at the very moments their content directly applies, when I am angry, when I am confronted with moral filth within or without, when my mouth spouts ugly, when I am confronted with needs and am called upon to help. If I don’t use my fork there and eat I will not grow.

Spiritual growth does not take place by neatly organizing the cupboard, by having all the labels pointing into the same direction, by memorizing the inventory. It takes place when we take out the right jar and eating it all right when and where it applies. If, after deciding to follow Christ, the way I handle my anger has not changed, if my mouth is as negative, vile, judgmental, and unkind as ever, if my response to the needy, forgotten, and oppressed remains apathetic and uninvolved, then I have simply been looking at the jars without eating what is in them.

Get out your fork, eat what God in his word is currently setting before you. You will be amazed at how good it is, and your growth will become evident to all.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans.

 

 

 

 

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Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

If you were in the direct path of a category 5 hurricane and someone told of a way to keep you, your family, and your neighbors completely save, would you pay attention? If that person told you that you not to board up the house but instead have a barbeque with some very specific ingredients and instructions, would you take her serious, or would you politely smile and get the plywood, hammer, and nails?

A spiritual storm was brewing in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had turned on people they once had invited, the Hebrews. Their solution was to oppress this growing minority who was threating to dilute all things Egyptian, so they reduced them to the status of slaves. What the Egyptians didn’t know was that God, for reasons only known to himself, has a special place in his heart for the Hebrews and for all who are oppressed. When the Hebrews demanded liberty, the right to leave, Pharaoh and the Egyptian leadership balked and cracked down harder. Even repeated calamities (known as the 10 plagues) that were unquestionably by the hand of God did not soften their hearts and change their minds and policies. (I wonder what kind of spiritual and political stubbornness, directly opposed to God’s will, besets you and me?) The last of the 10 judgments was that God would strike every male firstborn in Egypt dead. I wonder if the Egyptian leaders laughed in disbelief when Moses announced it to them. After all, how could that possibly happen? I wonder what the Hebrews thought when Moses told them of both the judgment and the only way to escape it. Which brings us back to the barbeque, better known as the Passover (Exodus 12).

Passover is so called because those who observed the first Passover where kept save from the judgment of the death of the firstborn, the angels dispatched to carry out this particular judgment “passed over” every home with the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorjamb and lintel. Besides slaughtering, grilling, and eating sheep or goat yearling, they were also supposed to bake only unleavened bread, and supposed to be ready and dressed to leave Egypt for good. Every Passover since recalls and remembers this event, and that in the wake of it the Egyptians finally relented and let Hebrews leave.

So, what did this have to do with Corinthians Christians (Greeks) 1500 years later, and how is this relevant to you and me 3500 years later? The greatest storm, the final calamity, the full judgment of God regarding all mankind, including you and me, is still to come, and we only have this life to prepare for it. There is no second chance after the night of death, “the day of the Lord?” We like the ancient Hebrews need both liberation and protection from God’s judgment, we need to leave the land of slavery and journey into God’s promises. Sin will not release its slaves voluntarily and God’s judgment will not just arbitrarily pass us by, we need salvation. Without the blood of Jesus Christ, the unblemished sinless lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, without his blood applied to the doorposts of our lives, we will not survive when God will summon the living and the dead before his throne of judgment. The ancient Passover points to the ultimate Passover, Jesus Christ.

So, in the ancient Passover the lamb is Jesus, the blood is his, the bread without leaven, Christ the sinless one. We are the ones dressed to journey, ready to live by faith, willing to trust the word and promises of God, leaving sin (leaven) and its slavery behind, ready to build a different kind of world, one that reflects the rulership, the holiness, and the heart of God.

You would think that all of this is a no brainer, but it wasn’t for the ancient Egyptians, nor was it for the Hebrews, or us today. The Egyptians hung on to their gods, even when they were exposed as impotent and dead idols, just like we hang on to our own beliefs and opinions. The Hebrews constantly wanted to go back, they wanted something less challenging than a life of faith, even if it meant slavery. The Corinthians divorced religious ritual from affecting real life, they hung the traveling clothes in the closet and sang to Jesus while being morally corrupt gorging on leavened bread. And then of course there is us, you and me. What is, and what will be your Passover reality?

T God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans.

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Benefits

“Yes, ‘tis sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just from sin and self to cease;

Just from Jesus simply taking,

Life and rest, and joy and peace.”

(Louisa M. R. Stead)

It makes a difference who you are connected with, the relationships you cultivate. I have been connected with, married to Susie, this incredible person, this most lovely woman, this very best friend, this most amazing love, for over 37 years now. It would take me quite a while to list all of the benefits of this ongoing relationship, and at the end of that list I would be singing, “How sweet it is, to be loved by you” (James Taylor).

Throughout those 37 years of sharing love and life the two of us benefited from many relationships, friendships, and connections. It is awesome to have people in your life who have your best interest in mind, who care about you, support you, cheer for you, help you, and put themselves out on your behalf. But hands down our most important relationship, our most indispensible connection has been with Christ, with God. No one has been as kind, as good, as committed, and as faithful to Susie and as Jesus, has been. We know what it means to exclaim with the psalmist, What shall I render to the LORD For all His benefits toward me?” Psalm 116:12 (NASB).

The ancient king David sang,

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (
Psalm 103:1-5, ESV; why not get out a Bible and read the entire Psalm 103).

God can bless, can do, can help, can work, and can orchestrate things no one else can. The list of his benefits is singular, a fact we often forget. The list of his benefits also includes many for which we never give him credit:

Moses reminded, “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, …” Deuteronomy 8:18a (NASB).

Proverbs informs, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” Proverbs 18:22 (ESV); “… a sensible wife is from the Lord”
Proverbs 19:14 (HCSB).

Wise Solomon remembers, Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” Psalm 127:3 (NLT).

Have you ever rented a car and decided to pay for the extra insurance? Only to kick yourself latter when you remembered that one of the benefits of the credit card you used to rent said car is car rental insurance? You have to be aware of the benefits you have. It pays to read the fine print when it comes to benefits, failure to do so just might mean you pay for what is free or lose out altogether. This why the best thing Susie and I have ever done is cultivating our relationship with God in Christ, living in the nearness of God, and continually read his written word (the Bible) so we will rely on all of God’s benefits.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Old Travel Trailer

I had no idea a little camper trailer could be this much work! The good news is that it was free; initially that is, it was given to us. Although by now I have to confess wondering a few times about the motive for this gift.

Initially Susie and I were just going to fix a “little” water damage at the right front corner. That little water damage turned out to be a completely rotted front and back as well as half a side wall. All the skin had to come off, and about half of trailer had to be disassembled and be rebuilt. As of this writing, the frame and skin are back together, but it is far from done.

This 65 Aristocrat Lo-Liner has morphed from free into a significant investment of money, time and sweat, especially time and seat, lot’s of sweaty time indeed. If it ever gets back on the road again it will be a major accomplishment and celebration for us amateur fixer-uppers.

We also have some new problems and dilemmas because by now we are invested, emotionally attached. That’s what happens when you decide to take on a challenge, pour your heart into it, do research, learn new skills, plunk down money, allocate time, sweat a lot, and give yourself cuts and bruises. There is also the point of no return, which was early on, when we still had the option to just let the thing roll down the backside our property and watch it crash at the bottom of the gulley. Too late for that, somewhere along the line we became committed, were all in, had a vision of the end result, and had our pride kick in, “That piece of Canned Ham trailer is not going to whop us!”

Old trailers like the Aristocrat like to talk, sometimes more than you want them to. There are the stories of when it was new, when it was used a lot, when it was filled with life and laughter. There are the stories when it sat empty, when it was forgotten, when it was reduced to an occasional hangout, when it was replaced with a newer bigger model, when it became expendable, when it got old and the rot started to set in. It likes to talk about simpler times, of camping without Satellite TV, microwaves, porcelain toilets, in trailers that transform into mansions on wheels. And it is good at throwing out questions, “Am I worth all this time and effort?” “Are there not more important things you should be doing?” Are you as passionate and dedicated to building God’s kingdom as you are about fixing me?”

“Darn old trailer, sometimes I wish it would just stay quiet.”

Susie and I lived in an old trailer much like this one when we were first married; maybe that’s why we have soft spot for it. Maybe it represents our yearning for simplicity in the midst of life that is continually filling up to the max. Maybe it is an answer to our prayers for contentment, to spend hundreds instead of thousands, to resist the ever thirsty urge for bigger, newer, better, and instead find joy in what God gives us.

Let your conduct (character) be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV, parenthesis mine)

            To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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How much can one story change things?

What comes to your mind when you hear or read the word, “Samaritan?” Chances are high that you associate “Samaritan” with someone who cares, someone who helps people in need, in fact very often you will find the adjective “good” added to Samaritan. This wasn’t always so. Most of the people who listened to Jesus the day he told the story of what we now call the parable of the Good Samaritan thought of the Samaritans in entirely unfavorable terms. Being called a “Samaritan” was a racial slur, a putdown, a declaration of being part of a people who were no good, were untrustworthy, and who had a long history of religious impurity and compromise. Worthless people, people you avoid, people you wished lived far away or not at all. When Jesus took his disciples through Samaria (a route serious Jews avoided) his disciples couldn’t wait to get out of there, so much so they were going to miss the kingdom opportunities staring them in the face (John 4:4-43).

Who are the people you don’t care for? You want to get away from as fast possible? Who represent to you all that wrong with the world? Who couldn’t possibly do much good if any at all? Who have this really lousy reputation? Who are discardable, dispensable, and reprehensible in your social, cultural, political, and religious context? Who couldn’t possible become an example of anything good?

Jesus told just one story (Luke 10:25-37), in the context of being asked about how to inherit eternal life and a subsequent question about whom we should love and whom we are free not to love and care for. Just one story of a right, caring, courageous, and generous act by a Samaritan, of all people, changed the way an untold multitude has thought of Samaritans across centuries all the way till now.

Beyond the larger context Jesus clearly reminded the questioner and all those listening in, including us, that we are constantly living in a story, and how we act our story makes a big difference, identifies who we really are, and what we want our world to be like.

Over the years I have officiated at hundreds of funerals, listened to thousands of stories being told, many, if not most recounting episodes of lives lived in selfish pursuits, of good times, funny incidents, personal successes, and too often of even the questionable dressed up to sound good. On the other hand, rare are the stories that tell of watershed moments, of when God-ordained detours where embraced, when self was denied in favor of doing what is right, and good, and godly. Stories of when new reputations were forged, when evil was defeated, when someone put him or herself in the hand of God and said, “Write away O God! Write what makes a difference, what counts, what epitomizes what caring, loving, and eternal values are all about.”

It is our great struggle, isn’t it, which stories to write and which to bypass, what to engage with and what to ignore, what to open our heart to and what to close it to, how comfortable and safe to be and when where to risk it, how much of God’s most fundamental commands to fully embrace or to justify settling for less. Jesus was unambiguous in his parting words to the one who prompted the story in first place, “Go and do likewise.”

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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