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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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Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Galatians 6:4 (MSG)

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—
James 4:3a (NLT)

God hears and answers every prayer, but God does not grant every request. The student who fervently prays for God’s help to pass the upcoming major test yet spend the time s/he could have been studying playing video games, or binge-watching a favorite show, or simply farting around is probably best advised to spend whatever time is left studying instead of praying. The person foolishly wasting money and then pleading with God for a financial bailout might be better off enrolling in a money management course to change his/her habits than asking God to underwrite bad habits. The liar, the drama queen, the agitator, the hater, the cruel, the over-sensitive, the selfish or self-centered bugger praying for others to change and treat them nicer stands little chance for God granting them their request of exempting them from the consequences of their actions; what do you think?

There are things God will not support. I challenge you to take a moment and make a list of ten things you are pretty sure of that God will not support them. Ready?

1.

2.

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4.

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6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Now use that list like a mirror, examine yourself against it, think about what you should do and how you should pray in light of your list.

I know for myself I don’t want God to shake his head and sigh because of the immaturity, the emptiness, the audacity, the twistedness, or the lack of Christlikeness of my prayers.  “… get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.  For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.  But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:21-25 (NLT)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

(Regardless of how much I pray, God, among other things, does not support: 1. Laziness, 2. Hatred, mismanaged anger, bitterness, 3. Revenge, 4. Disobedience, 5. Sin and wickedness, 6. Immorality, 7. Greed of all kinds, 8. Cruelty, 9. Injustice, 10. Selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-promotion, 11. Foolishness, 12. Dishonesty, 13. Unforgiveness, 14. Pride, hubris, arrogance, 15. Praising yourself, 16 Gloating over the fall of enemies, 17. Lawlessness, 18. Lack of love, mercy, grace, and kindness, 19. Idolatry of any kind, 20. Neglecting to do good and help when and wherever we can, 21. Dishonoring Jesus Christ, 22. Misusing his name, 22. Empty spirituality, 23. Foolishness of all kinds, 24. Transgressing his commandments, ways, and principles, 25. Apathy, ….)

 

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 “… Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?’” (1 Samuel 19:5 ESV) is what Jonathan asked as he stood up against his Dad, King Saul, who was out to kill David, who was also Jonathan’s best friend. In the long term this didn’t benefit Jonathan, it wasn’t beneficial to his career, soured the relationship with his father, and complicated his life. Standing up for what is right is usually costly, yet in doing so Jonathan not only protected his friend’s life but also drew a line in the sand against one of the seven things God hates, “Arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, …” (Proverbs 6:17 HCSB).

They journey together, form a wicked triumvirate, the shedding of innocent blood, arrogance, and lying; where you find one you do not have to look far to find the other. Shedding of innocent blood requires the arrogance of your life being more valuable than the one you are willing to depose off, it necessitates lying to both to yourself and those to whom you justify the act. And God absolutely abhors and hates all three. It is a terrible thing to find ourselves doing what God hates, what is completely unlike him.

One of the consequences of leaving, disavowing, turning your back on the only true and living God and substitute manmade religion or godless philosophies and ideologies, is that we end up playing God, and in doing so we both feed our pride and lie to ourselves. Listen to the ancient indictment of God’s own people, “They did not destroy the peoples as the LORD had commanded them but mingled with the nations and adopted their ways. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons. They shed innocent blood— the blood of their sons and daughters whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; so the land became polluted with blood. They defiled themselves by their actions and prostituted themselves by their deeds.
Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against His people, and He abhorred His own inheritance”
(Psalm 106:34-40 HCSB).

How much innocent blood has been spilled across this land since 1776? Justified on the altars of greed, Westward expansion, racism, political expediency, progress, personal freedom, and the worship of self? And we are continuing the bloodshed, arrogance, and lies. But the numbers of the most innocent, the unborn, the ones whose cries we cannot hear, are  staggering: More than 59,000,000, yes, fifty-nine million since 1973 (Roe vs. Wade); 926,000 in 2014 (touted as a record low).

We are foolish to think that God’s anger will not “burn against” us when we embrace that which he hates. We too will reap what we sow, personally and collectively. Calls for God to “bless America” will be hollow if we do not dare to stand with Jonathan wherever and whenever innocent blood is spilled.

May we humble ourselves and repent this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, January 21, 2018.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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Abram – the Church- and Spiritual Maturity

What you live for and what you’d you die for says a lot about you. Maybe even more importantly who you live for and who you would die for. It tells of what is important to you, who is most important to you, what you’re passionate about, whom and what you value, what is most precious to you, what you hold most dear, what means the most to you.

Abram (most of us know him as Abraham) needed to sort something out with Lot his nephew. Both men were very wealthy but they needed to separate their ranching businesses. Abram, the older, told Lot to pick, “If you go right I’ll go left. If you go east I’ll go west.” The first thing Abram did in his new location was set up an altar to worship God. Lot picked what was easier and also better for the bottom line and settled close to Sodom. Sodom promptly got invaded, lost the war, and Lot and family ended up as captives, plundered of their wealth. As soon as Abram heard of it he organized a force to go and rescue Lot and the other captured people. After the battle Abram encountered Melchizedek the priest of God and made and offering, he gave a tenth (tithe) of all the spoils to him. The king of Sodom asked Abram to just give him his people back and told him to keep all their retrieved possessions. But Abram refused – he wanted no part of the stuff of the people of Sodom; he knew it came with strings attached (if you want the details, read Genesis 13-14). Now what does this tell us about Abram, who and what he was living for and who and what he was willing to die for?

  • He didn’t live for stuff; he wasn’t greedy. He was willing to settle for less, was generous, and didn’t want other folks’ things.
  • He cared about peace and was willing to humble himself for it, sacrifice the easy for it, take the shorter end of the stick for it.
  • Seeking and worshipping God came first, even in a new place.
  • He loved family; he was willing to die in the effort to rescue Lot.
  • Honoring God with his wealth was important to him; the blessing of God was important to him.
  • He valued his freedom; He didn’t want to beholden to anyone but God.

So what does Abram have to do with the church? He illustrates that true men and women of God live for and are willing die for certain things, they chose to live by different values – by things important to God. Few things are as important to Jesus as his church; he died for it, “… Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” Ephesians 5:25 (NLT). Jesus considers the church his bride – family, no wonder he was willing to lay down his life for her. Growing in our relationship with God, maturing in our faith in Christ means that, like Abram/Abraham, we increasingly love what Jesus loves, we more and more live for what is important to God, and we order our lives around what God values.

Join a sound church today. 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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Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

For sure I would’ve flunked the Ancient Eastern Astrological Society’s entrance exam, because my knowledge of the night sky does not extend past the Big Dipper and North Star. I would have completely missed Jesus’ cosmic birth announcement, and would have been a no-show. There would not have been any presents for Jesus if those wise men seeking to worship the King of the Jews would have had to rely on my astronomical skills.

I don’t think the shepherds living out with the sheep saw what the wise men saw either, even though they did spend a lot of time looking at the night sky. They too, just walking distance of Bethlehem, would have missed the birth of Christ.

I wonder how many Magi from the East didn’t make the journey? They saw the same star as the those traveled, maybe they were even consulted, maybe they thought their colleagues had strayed too far from astronomy to astrology? It’s one thing to observe and study the stars, it is quite another to read a divine message, a heavenly invitation out of the stars.

Do you, like me, wonder why God in his infinite wisdom thought it important to inform those shepherds and deliver a grand invitation to them? In fact, they were given the honor to be the first witnesses of the God incarnate, of God in the flesh.

What a contrast between those shepherds and the Magi from the East. Think about it: uneducated shepherds – learned wise men, men spending their nights outside with sheep – scholars sleeping on soft beds in fine houses, simple men who most likely never travelled more than fifty miles from home – men who had both the time and money to travel far, Jews – gentiles, subsistence sheep-herders – wealthy men with gifts fit for a king, men who wouldn’t be allowed to come close enough to smell the inside of a palace – emissaries who got an audience with king Herod on the spot. Yet both were invited to come and have a look, to see, in the flesh, the very Son of God. Neither would have anticipated receiving an invitation from God himself to come, see, know, and worship Jesus the Christ.

God is still inviting people, you, your family members, your friends, co-workers, neighbors, even your enemies, to come and see his Son, Jesus Christ, and follow him, believe in him, acknowledge him, worship him. It doesn’t matter if you have calloused or soft hands, smell like sheep or Hugo for Men™, if you are wealthy or dirt poor, educated or illiterate, rough or refined, important or obscure, religiously engaged or not. God, through the Holy Spirit and the Church (the body and bride of Christ) is still sending out Christmas invitation, The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say (respond), ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” Revelation 22:17 (NASB, parenthesis mine). And sometimes and invitation to follow, believe in, and worship Jesus looks a lot like a pastor’s note.

Consider yourself officially invited.

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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I have double confession to make: 1. I am not good at giving gifts. I love to help, be generous, but gift-giving is not my spiritual gift. 2. I am not very good at receiving gifts either, a weakness for sure. I am way too German/Schwaebisch, which means I am terrible with “Kitsch,” useless, knick-knack, cheap stuff. When it comes to gifts the running joke and question in my family is whether I am going to take things back and exchange them. I am slowly improving, thanks to intensive tutoring by Susie (my wife, who is super good at the gift and receiving of gifts thing), but progress has been very slow.

Christmas is about giving and receiving, specifically God giving and us receiving. Above anything else, this Christmas would you think about, contemplate God giving us the ultimate gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) and your response to this gift of Jesus Christ.

However, before reflecting on God’s “indescribable gift,” Jesus Christ, think about everything else you have received from God. Let’s start from the very beginning. Your life, your first heartbeat, your first breath, all the way to this present moment is a gift from God. Your ability to laugh, cry, feel, do good, think, and chose, are all things God gave to you and me. The characteristics that make you you and me me, whether it is our tenacity, courage, boldness, tenderness, kindness, intelligence, handiness, …, are from God as well. The “lucky breaks,” the opportunities, the things you survived, can also be traced back to the giving heart of God. The fact is you and I have received from God all our lives, from the very beginning until now. It makes no difference whether you acknowledge this fact or sneer at it, it still stands as the truth; the only difference is that acknowledging it will make you grateful and not doing so will render you ungrateful, acknowledging it will cause you to have an increasing sense of responsibility towards God, disavowing it will cause you to be blind in your responsibility towards God. It is not a matter of whether you have received from God all your life but whether your life expresses your gratitude towards God.

Esau (Genesis 25-27, 25:34, 27:38) was born before his twin brother Jacob, which, in his ancient culture, meant he also got the significant firstborn rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately, he could have cared less about these gifts from God (admittedly, it is often hard to think of responsibilities as gifts), so in a careless moment he literally sold his birthright for a pot of stew, for mere pocket change. And he regretted it bitterly when it was too late. How grateful and careful are you for and with all God has given you up to this point in your life?

Esau is not in lonely company when it comes to being ungrateful for what God gave him, being careless with what God entrusted to him, shirking the responsibilities God handed to him. He is not the only sinner, the only one who has blown it, the only one who exchanged God’s gifts for something far less. No, you and are sitting right next to him in this historical boat (Romans 3:23). Which brings us back to Jesus, back to Christmas, back to God’s greatest gift, the gift that can save sinners, the gift that can help ungrateful screwups like you and me find forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. But like all gifts, it won’t benefit you unless you receive it, in this case him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son, the Savior of the world.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Go” John 1:12 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Let’s get ready for Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

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