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Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Psalm 127:3 (NASB)

Fathers (parents), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

No decent parent wants their child/ren to grow up and be a bum or brat, be lazy, dishonest, out of control, ungrateful, disrespectful, irresponsible, rotten, or foolish. Of course, if you leave character building up to chance or to your cute little offspring themselves you will exponentially increase their chances to be some or all of the above.

I had them, this year’s VBS 5-6th grade boys, set up a tent. They yanked it out of the box, opened the zippered bag and went to work, and like typical males didn’t bother to read the instructions, which, by the way, were sown to the zippered bag so there is no chance of losing them. Finally, one of them, Coty, realized it wasn’t going too well, so he sat down and read the instructions, and together with Swain’s leadership they actually managed to set the thing up. I was proud of them.

Why are we so reluctant to read and follow instructions? And why do babies come without any instructions? And why do those “gifts of God” have such a difficult time following instructions while they’re still in diapers and then only get worse at it?

God knows us all too well, that’s why his instructions to parents are clear: Don’t leave the raising of your kids to chance, to mere crisis management, current cultural trends, or somebody else. Don’t exasperate your kids with being absent, disengaged, inconsistent, and not having a plan. Instead, train and instruct them the way God wants you to train and instruct them. This, of course, requires that we as parents know God ourselves, are familiar with his ways, champion his values, live like he wants us to, love what he loves, and read and practice the manual, the instructions, the Bible.

It is possible to raise very decent kids with great values and leave God out of the picture. But it is impossible to raise godly, God-fearing kids and leave God out of the picture. So, if you are lucky/blessed with having one or more of those gifts from God called children, make sure that above all you raise them with God and his Son Jesus Christ in the center of everything, training them and instructing them in all that is important to God, and be the best example of all of that they will ever see. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10 (NIV)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. To that end anchor yourself and your family in a local church. I actually know a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Interruption of Me, My, Mine

It is an amazing thing to watch the acquisition of the words me, my, and mine.  If you happen to attend a Christmas gathering inhabited with a number of kids below the age of five you will have a front row seat to watching, me, my, and mine.  I guarantee, sooner than later there will be a ruckus because one child will play with a toy given to another child. Then the owner child will inform the taker child that the toy s/he playing with belongs to him/her, “That’s mine!” or simply, “Mine!” will be followed by a determined grab. But the rightful owner is unaware that the usurper is claiming the unofficial rule, or even natural law, that anything left unattended long enough to be taken and played with constitutes a transfer of ownership. Thus the determined grab by the rightful owner will be met by a jerk in the opposite direction and a claim, “No, mine!” And before you know it there will be a physical altercation accompanied with tears and screaming. At this point, the inattentive adults, who were happy that the children were  “playing so nicely together,” are alerted and jump in to correct the situation with various, although often ineffective, strategies.

Of course, these little people have been working on the concept of these words since birth, long before they can articulate it into words. They figure out very quickly who is “my Mommy,” which Mommy might interpret as her being super special (which she is, really), but it really is about that little cutie making sure about “me,” that s/he gets taking care of, is being fed, burped, changed, and cuddled. If you think I am being too cynical just watch what happens when someone comes along and does a better job of the things that are important to that little “me (first).”

Now check out the child who was jealous as she saw her sibling or cousin unwrap a present she really wanted. She is looking for an opportunity, the moment her cousin lays down the coveted toy, she looks around, sees that no one is watching, and swoops in. Meanwhile, the owner child is engaged in playing with something else, happy as can be, until she spots cousin with the toy she wasn’t caring about at the moment. Did you see her mood change? The different look in her eyes? The indignation? Me, My, Mine taking over? She glares with disgust at the intervening adults who are trying to encourage her to share. “Hypocrites,” she thinks, although she doesn’t know that word yet, “Let me see you do that when someone uses your toys without asking! It’s my toy and I get to use it when I want to use it.”

While addressing the child owner the adults are also trying to persuade or sidetrack the jealous taker child, who instinctively has tightened his grip. She’s not giving it up without a fight, logic and property rights be damned, in spite of not knowing those words either.

Human history, our personal history is marked and marred by the Me, My, Mine cycle and all the ills that accompany it. Many, if not most, of our laws mean to curtail it, rain it in, yet none have been able to eradicate it. Even the youngest, most untarnished members of our society are unable to be happy and generous in the midst of abundance.

Christmas – Jesus interrupts this Me, My, Mine cycle. It is one of the major reasons we struggle with Jesus (the real Jesus, not the one we have reshaped). He prayed, “Your (God the Father’s) will not mine.” He cared about God’s glory and honor not his own. He gave his life so sinners could live. He exhausted himself by helping, healing, caring. He lived a life that wasn’t about me and calls us to do the same. He didn’t hang onto what most of us wouldn’t dream of letting go. At no time in his life did he succumb to the Me, My, Mine cycle, nor did he excuse us to continue in it, instead he died trying to deliver us from it. “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (MSG).

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. Hebrews 11:23 (ESV)

They couldn’t d it because they were normal. It didn’t matter that they had no legal standing, they were part of a minority living in constant fear, and that chances of them being found out were sky high. They knew the law, they knew they were putting their other children and family at risk, but they also knew what was clearly right and obviously wrong. So Moses’ parents, Amram and Jochebed, did not throw their newborn infant son into the Nile but instead hid him, cared for him, fed and cleaned him, and most importantly loved him. Loving a baby, especially yours is normal, parents making sacrifices for their children is normal; it not only feels right but is right.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry (compassion) for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Exodus 2:5-6 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

Ironically, the daughter of the Pharaoh who issued the infanticide law regarding Hebrew males couldn’t do it either. She stumbled upon the basket Moses’ parents had made for him when it became impossible to hide him any longer. A soon as Pharaoh’s daughter realized that this was a Hebrew baby she could have instructed one of her servants to take little Moses out of his basket and toss him into the current of the river. But she didn’t because it is normal to comfort and love on a crying baby.

It is normal for parents to love their children and it is equally normal for children to love their parents, we are capable of both. Yet, every day we see children thrown into the “Nile.” Few topics carry with it as much brokenness, neglect, manipulation, disappointment, twistedness and outright evil than parent-child relationships. But can you think of a better illustration of the difference love makes than a loving home and family?

No one knows more and has more experience as to love in the parent/child relationship than God. The love Jesus shows to you and me and even his enemies is no accident, he said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” John 15:9 (NIV).

For all the things God will hold us accountable what we do with our capacity to love might be at the very top, and our very first relationship in life is meant to get us started on love, grow and become strong in love. In a real relationship with God through Christ it is his love that seeks to shape us to become ever better, to be men and women, Moms and Dads, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends who continue to grow in holiness and love, who are known for love that is fearless, committed, strong, selfless, and real. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” Proverbs 3:12 (NLT).

I believe the love, faith, and courage of Jochebed and Amram impacted Moses for the rest of his life in the most positive way. What he experienced at home had an impact on his own character, his dedication to God, his family, his people, his desire to form a society that is just, caring, and God-honoring.

It is never too late to start down the road of being a loving parent, of being a loving child. It might mean having to learn a lot, asking for much forgiveness, granting much forgiveness, and making profound changes. But I am convinced that God will help you and me to unleash our capacity to love.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

We have a way of changing the story, not just the Christmas story, but stories in general. This too, is what marks sinners. It happens every day, in editorial meetings, communications offices, courtrooms, lunch conversations, principals’ offices, telephone calls, press releases, leaks, history books and documentaries, and … The focus gets changed, facts are omitted, small details are exaggerated, emphases are shifted, fingers get pointed, personal and political agendas take hold and rearrange.

The birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, the redemptive plan of God centered in his Son Jesus Christ is a case in point. What has happened to Mary, the young woman whom God offered to become the mother of the Christ. We actually know precious little about her. How do you picture her? For the most part her story has been taken into three directions: 1. She is a demur young woman who is all but passive, holding up the baby Jesus to visitors and artist/photographers with a peaceful smile on her face. 2. She has been elevated to the status of semi-goddess. 3. She has been reduced to a fictional character in an utterly absurd religious story. All of these have changed the story.

Mary’s name means “obstinate, rebellious.” Her Old Testament name sake is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was anything but a demur soul, but rather outspoken, strong-willed, and quick-witted. God clearly saw Mary for more than breeding stock with the right blood line, he, above anyone else, knew that this young woman knew how to think, had inner strength, had a faith willing to take risks, was honest, and didn’t need the limelight. God invited her into his story and she volunteered herself, her body, and her life for life. And she didn’t change the story, her story – others did. She let the story be about Jesus, her life be about Jesus.

So, this Christmas, what have you done with the story, the truth of Jesus? How much have you changed it? Have you dismissed it? Have you replaced it with your own narrative? Have you reduced it to sentimental movie tradition, to a leggy lamp and a Red Rider BB gun? Has it become about your family instead of God’s family?

“Jesus Christ came into our world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), that is the unchanged story of Christmas. You and I can respond to it like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, …” (Luke 1:38), and from then on let our lives be about Jesus Christ, or we can to decide to do what sinners do, change the story, but only one can actually save you.

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

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How rich would you want your children to be? I imagine you’d prefer them not to be poor. Susie, my wife, and I have worked really hard so our children would not have to ever be as poor as we once were, maybe you have done the same. Maybe you bought a lottery ticket or two for the slim chance of winning big so you can put the financial tightrope behind you and have your kids and grandkids be all set.

Of course, Susie and I didn’t just work hard on the money thing in regard to our kids, we wanted them to have opportunities as well. But with little money, opportunities are also harder to come by. I can’t tell you how many tamales got manufactured in our kitchen in order to raise money for an exchange student year and other opportunities we wanted our children to have.

But there is still more to life than money and opportunities, you can have lots of both and be poor in character. In fact, if we would have had to choose between money, opportunities, and character Susie and I would have asked for our children to grow up and be rich in character, for them to be honest, hard-working, kind, generous, dependable, thoughtful, wise, gritty, frugal, confident, ever- learning, courageous, caring, optimistic, daring, creative, fun-loving, and selfless people.

We also did not want them to have poor minds; a mind is terrible thing to waste. So, we read to them, filled our house with books, took them to the library mobile, limited the TV and other electronic mindlessness, challenged them to think, to figure things out, to love discovering and learning, and develop discipline and tenaciousness of mind. No, we did not want them to have poor minds, because poor minds think small and are easily deceived. I have to admit that there were times when we almost regretted working hard to enrich their minds, usually when they outsmarted us, blew holes into our parental arguments, or exposed our own mental poverty or duplicity.

There are so many ways to be poor and our constant prayer was we would succeed in raising our kids to be anything but poor. We don’t want them to have poor manner, poor social skills, poor foresight, poor judgment, a poor sense of justice, poor morals, poor vocabularies, poor habits, poor skills, poor money and time management, poor civic involvement, and so much more. Man, parenting to make your kids rich is tough, because you don’t just have to pay attention to so many things but you also have to model all that stuff.

Suppose you and Susie and I succeed in doing a really good job at all of the above helping them to grow up in a “rich” environment, a “rich” home filled with real love, fun, opportunities, values, security, and all the things that help them become rich in every way. We can succeed in all of the above and our children could still be utterly poor of soul if God is nowhere to be found in all of that riches. Jesus, in describing a hardworking man who is living the American dream, but with God nowhere in the picture, calls him both a fool and poor when it came to God (Luke 12:1-40).

There is not much good in poverty of any kind, but none is more far-reaching than poor towards God, leaving God and Christ out of life’s most important decisions, having a mind that is not curious and seeking after God, having a heart that does not love God, having values and morals that offend God, living and dying without trusting in, following, and obeying the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Fellow parents, how I pray that you give yourself to God through his Son Jesus Christ, that you build your family around your relationship with God and the word of God (the Bible), that you dedicate yourself to make your children really rich in what matters most, both now and for eternity.

If you are wondering where to start, get back on track, and stay on course for the long-haul I encourage you to do the following three things beginning today.

  • Every week for the next six months go to a church where the Bible is taught and lived.
  • Read the Bible in your home, start in Mark. Be prepared for your children to ask questions you can’t answer (that will have you come back to church for answers).
  • Pray in the name of Jesus with your spouse and your family.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Grady in January – Sanctity of Human Life, Human Rights, and Justice

grady-in-january-2

Did you know that you are precious, deeply loved, and incredibly valuable? But not just you, every other person is as well. It is an indisputable fact, from conception to the grave every human being is precious to God, loved by God, and has intrinsic value and dignity given to him/her by God.

Our children were home for this Christmas, when they arrived it was hugs and kisses and whenever my arms are wrapped around them I still feel like I am holding the most precious and valuable God will ever put into my arms. That’s also the thing making the good-byes so hard. For a number of years now one of the Christmas gifts Susie, my wife, has given to each family member is a calendar with pictures from our yearly family gathering at the beach. This year’s January is graced with a picture of Grady, the youngest grandson. It is beyond cute, off the precious scale. It’s not hard to spot the incredible value of that little boy, it is easy to fall in love with him, one look and you know he is a gift from God.

But what if Grady had been born with a handicap, if he wouldn’t be the perfect looking little baby boy? What if his conception was at an altogether bad time? What if his arrival spelled a serious inconvenience, even hardship? What if his life expectancy was very short? Would it alter his value? Would he be less precious? Would he be less lovable? Would he be less deserving of dignity? Would his life somehow lack sanctity? Of course not.

We struggle with human rights, with the sanctity of human life, with justice. Somehow while rallying for the right to choose we rationalize trampling on the right to live. Somehow we campaign for lives that truly matter while endorsing the slaughter of the most innocent. We are good at claiming rights for our ourselves but are much more reluctant to grant them to others, especially when and where they impact us, our freedoms, our opportunities, our happiness, and our prosperity and posterity. We are good at framing our arguments, catering to the like-minded, and vilifying, devaluing, stupidifying, and marginalizing those who oppose us. We are for liberty and justice for all who are like us, but then of course there are exceptions. We are prone to forget that preciousness and sanctity of every human life, human rights, and justice for all from conception to the grave is not just an issue, or a cause, a political platform item, an argument to be fought over, a debate about morals and ethics; it is about real people, pre-born, newborn, children, tweens and teens, young people, adults, and old people; friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, citizens, illegals, criminals, and enemies; poor, rich educated, illiterate, healthy, and sick people of all colors; all of them created in the image of God. Their pictures, even if it is an ultrasound, and existence are as real as Grady in January.

It is up to you and me, not just to law and policy (as important as they are) to stand for justice, for the right to life, to treat each other with dignity and respect, to acknowledge the sanctity of every human life. It takes both a personal and collective commitment to make liberty and justice for all work in real life.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy (kindness) and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Now the birth …. Matthew 1:18 (NASB)

 Before you can have a birth, you need conception and nine months’ worth of amazing development from a single cell to billions of cells organized in mindboggling complexity and endowed with a soul. All of it designed and overseen by God himself, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well” Psalm 139:13-14 (NASB).

Despite having watched videos of births in Lamaze class and on PBS, I was still unprepared for the birth of our first child. As they pulled him out I heard him take his first breath, make his first sound, and watched him turn from blue to pink. When they put him in my arms I couldn’t help but feel I was holding a little miracle in my hands. The second, third, and fourth time I was more prepared, but that feeling of holding a little miracle only grew stronger. However, the birth of Jesus Christ was a miracle of entirely different dimensions.

Back up nine months from “the birth,” zoom in on an obscure village called Nazareth in ancient Galilee, look for the carpenter shop, and there you find a happily engaged young man named Joseph, counting the days to his wedding. If you want to know where his fiancée (his “betrothed”) lives with her family you need to ask him for directions.

Fast forward a few weeks and go find Joseph again in his carpenter’s shop. He is clearly preoccupied, something is weighing on his mind, and it is not what he learned in Lamaze class or on PBS. If you could read his mind you would know that he is trying to break the engagement to Mary with as little fuss as possible. She told him that she is pregnant and he knows he is not the father. Her explanation that things are not what they seem and that she’s pregnant with a child conceived by the Holy Spirit makes no sense.

Since by now you know your way around Nazareth go back again a few months later and order some breakfast at Malachi’s Dinner and Bagel shop. Ask the waitress, Abigail, also known as “The Nazareth Daily News,” if she knows Joseph and Mary’s wedding date. Watch her scoot into your booth with her coffee pot in hand and listen to her tell you in a whisper that it turns out that little good girl Mary turned up pregnant and rumor has it Joseph isn’t the real father. “Can you believe that young fool is still willing to marry her when he could have almost any girl in town,” she says wagging her head. “Supposedly, he claims, God told him to her marry her anyway. And, sad to say, it sounds just like him. But if you ask me, that’s taking the whole God-fearing thing a bit too far,” she says while sliding out of your booth.

“So you liked Nazareth so much you had to come back eight months later, eeh?” You went by the carpenter shop but it had a “For Sale” sign in the window. So back to Abigail it is. “They went down South, Bethlehem I think, with her eight months pregnant, can you believe that. Fools I say! They don’t know a single soul down there. I tell you she is going to have that child down there, and then what?” she says shaking her head, “For the life of me I can’t figure out why either of their folks would let them,” and off she goes coffee pot in hand.

“I knew it; you’re already googling Bethlehem, aren’t you?” Abigail was right, by the time you get there Mary had that baby, in the middle of the night, in a strange little town, and in a barn no less. When you get to the barn you’re surprised to see that Joseph and Mary already have a bunch of visitors. Maybe Abigail wasn’t as right on as she thought she was. It’s a bunch of shepherds with a strange story of seeing the glory of God in the middle of the night and an angel telling them about this baby being born, and more importantly him being the Savior, the Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:8-20). You know what Abigail would say, “Don’t you know the only guys that drink more than fishermen are shepherds.” But these guys are sober, no doubt about it. They didn’t just witness a birth, but the birth, the miracle of the incarnation of God. They got to see more than the face of brand new baby, they got a glimpse of God.

How many babies were born the past week? Who knows? Each one is a precious life made in the image of God. Each one should be important and feel like a miracle to his or her parents, but it is not important for everyone to know about their birth or know their name. What is important is that you and I know about THE BIRTH, the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, whose name is Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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