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Archive for the ‘Choosing/Choices’ Category

Have you ever had a question to which you already knew the answer, but you didn’t like the answer?

“Yes, stop smoking, exercise, and change your diet,” was the doctor’s reply to his smoking, overweight patient asking, “Hey Doc, is there anything I can do to improve my health?”

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Luke 10:25-28 (NIV)

This Jesus/God testing lawyer knew the answer to his question, but he didn’t like the answer. It’s even worse when the answer comes out of your own mouth, isn’t it? When you know you are and hear yourself being a living discrepancy. So, this lawyer did what you and I usually do, try to justify ourselves, tell ourselves why we can’t, why it is too difficult, fish for something simpler, a way out, find an excuse to not change. But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 (NIV)

He was asking for a pill that would spare him having to act, not have to give up anything, change nothing. He was trying to excuse his not-neighbor-loving passivity by raising a philosophical/theological inner dilemma. He was fishing for a minimum standard, like love is in the habit of functioning by minimum standards. He wanted to remain in control instead of his love for God and people controlling him. He was looking for some legitimacy for selective loving or loving not at all.

Jesus never does answer the “who is my neighbor?” question, instead, he tells maybe his most famous story and asks a question in return, makes the God-tester say the answer out loud for the second time. In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise”
Luke 10:30-37 (NIV).

The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” it is, “Are you a neighbor?” Because when you are a neighbor you see like a neighbor, you empathize like a neighbor, you have compassion like a neighbor, you engage like a neighbor. You no longer are trying to complete a checklist of love before taking off to eternal life/heaven but see life, people, circumstances through the eyes of love and react accordingly.

Maybe it is time to drop the excuses, the action-paralyzing mind-games, the magic pill search that will remedy our selectively loving or outright loveless hearts and begin to “love your neighbor as ourselves.”

May you and I, long before we go to heaven, be known as the kind of neighbors the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” envisions.

To God be all Glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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VISION 2020: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR!

All kinds of new laws went into effect today, January 1, 2020, fewer restrictions on marijuana, no hair discrimination in the workplace, the Real ID Security Act, the California Consumers Privacy Act, … Not that they are all bad or not needed, laws do have to keep up with changes, should strive for greater justice, protect freedom, and help us to function as a society.

Romans 13 – is my New Year’s reading recommendation for you. It has everything in it to cheer you up: Governmental authority and leaders, taxes, rendering honor, and to top it all off, not getting drunk and going wild partying. Just exactly what you need to hear on one of the great hangover days of the year.

In the middle of Romans 13, you will find an old law that should never come off the books, “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’ These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law’” Romans 13:8-10 (NLT2).  All of God’s laws in regard to our interactions with others, concerning how to function as people and peoples have as their foundation “love your neighbor as yourself.” According to James, this is the highest, most supreme, “royal” law (James 2:8). The only greater law is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Of course, because of our broken, narcissistic, sinful hearts, we read this outstanding law of “love your neighbor as yourself” and immediately make it about us, our need to love ourselves first, think of ourselves first, our own needs, our own limitations… But did you notice? This supreme command is about love lived out in concrete actions, specifically self-denying actions, that benefit our neighbor most of all. According to God’s wisdom, this forms the very bedrock of living together in harmony, peace, kindness, and prosperity.

We are not living in a time when “loving your neighbor as yourself” is all of the sudden more important than it has been at any other time in history, but we are living in a time when loving yourself, your own group, your own people, is what comes first, the mantra drowning out the two most important and beneficial laws of human existence, interaction, and thriving, the most critical rules when it comes being and acting in the image of God (Genesis1:26).

2020 needs you and me to love our neighbor as God intended and like our world and future depend on it.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

P.S. Maybe you are asking a question asked before, “Who is my neighbor?” For an answer read Luke 10:25-37.

 

 

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We are in the last week of 2019 and are about to step through the front door of 2020, which means we are finishing and starting, again. Both, starting and finishing can be difficult, and how well you do both makes a difference, but you already knew that. Or maybe you didn’t want to be reminded because it makes you feel too guilty, which is just too bad because I’ve already started this pastor’s note and I am determined to finish it.

2020 has my 60th birthday and 40th wedding anniversary on the calendar, considering that Social Security gives males an average life expectancy of 76.04 years, I am entering the last quarter of my life and the third period of my married life. Maybe I should move to Canada, it would net me an extra 4 statistical years and get me to 80. Regardless, because of my age, I need to consider finishing well issues, which means I might have to start some things in order to do so. You can’t finish well without starting the right things the right way.

I cleaned up my office desk today. Among the things on my desk were notes of premarital work I’ve been doing with three young couples. Their 2020 calendar entails different dates than mine, but by getting married they finished the single life. For sure they are starting all kinds of new things, and what and how they start will have a huge impact on their lives by the time they hit my age. That’s the very reason we did premarital work in the first place.

You don’t have to finish everything you start. Like a worthless book or bad movie, some things are a waste of time, and some things are just bad for you, you don’t have to finish your life smoking just because you started. Jesus, of course, left this life with the famous words, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), which meant he completed his life’s mission. On the other hand, he also left some things unfinished, for his disciples to finish, like his church and its work. So hopefully, even if I run out of time finishing them, I will not be shy starting things just because I am closer to the end.

2020, like every year, has a beginning and it will have an end, and the end will be determined by what we start and our commitment to the things we do in the long in-between before the end. I am hoping you and I leave 2019 and enter 2020 with a “Caleb Attitude.” At 40 he was voted down by his countrymen, at 80 he could have been really grumpy and cynical, but instead, he itched to see what God could do now, he was ready for a whole new chapter of life (Joshua 14:6-15), he still wanted to slay giants. His testimony, his reputation was that he “followed God fully.” Even after a 40-year detour, after his whole sourpuss generation was buried before him, he couldn’t wait to finish what God had him involved in starting.

Well, at some time, and I think we are there, you have to quit talking and get to the doing or else there is no starting and without starting there is no finishing well. 2020 is a great time to unleash your inner Caleb/Calebette.

To God be all glory. Happy New Year, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)

 Joseph’s reaction and actions were determined by him being a “righteous man. What are you known for, identified as? A patient woman will react and act differently than a woman known for her temper. A generous man’s reactions and actions will not be same as the those of a miser or greedy man. A wise person will make different choices than a fool.

Joseph had a reputation of being a “righteous man.” It is one thing to be righteous in your own eyes (Luke 18:9) and quite another to be called righteous by God, your family, and the people in your town. You can’t get a “righteous’ man/woman reputation overnight, it requires acting righteously consistently over time. But you will never have that reputation if don’t start sometime, like today.

When we meet Joseph in the Word of God (the Bible) he already has this reputation of being “a righteous man.” Notice, it did not protect him from bad news and hurt. His fiancé told him she was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father, which could only mean one thing, she betrayed him – ouch! How would you handle that? We know Joseph handled it as a “righteous man.” Which meant what?

  • Right Actions – Regardless of how he felt, he didn’t act in inappropriate, vindictive, ugly, kneejerk, foolish, sinful, and regrettable ways.
  • Right Heart – Her betrayal and his hurt didn’t snuff out his compassion, his dislike of public mudslinging, his love of mercy and grace.
  • Right Reaction – He pushed the pause button, he “considered,” his options, what godliness looked like in this situation, and most importantly Mary, the woman who betrayed him.

Joseph’s righteous disposition, his righteous habits, his righteous heart enabled him to handle the situation in a righteous way. Because he was and acted righteously, he was;

  • Able to hear God – I don’t think it too far fetched to imagine Joseph praying about what to do, bringing his hurt and confusion before God, asking him to help and direct him.
  • Able to believe God – Accepting that your fiancé’s pregnancy is a result of the Holy Spirit’s action is some serious faith.
  • Able to follow God – which meant he would change his plans, marry Mary instead of divorcing her, raise the child as his own, and put his own dreams and needs on hold.

It is a lot easier to be unrighteous than righteous, but it is a lot better to be righteous than unrighteous. Before Christmas we do a lot of wrapping, Joseph had been wrapping himself with righteousness, and what a difference it made.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” …  going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2 & 11 (ESV, italics mine)

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Deuteronomy 5:7-10 (NASB)

We are all worshippers; it is what God created us to be. This means we all worship someone or something. It is not a matter of if, but of who or what you worship. Maybe you’re already strongly objecting, “Not me, I’m not even religious!”

Worshippers bow down, prostrate themselves, pay homage to someone or something. They honor, respect, and submit to a reality greater than themselves. Their hearts embrace, ‘kiss’ (literally in ancient times), and acknowledge a superior power. You don’t have to be religious to that, you can even worship yourself, but that would be a serious delusion.

The Eastern Wise Men who sought to worship the infant Jesus were not atheists, few people in the ancient world were, most likely they were polytheists (believing in many gods). What we know for sure is that they were intelligent enough to know that it makes no sense to worship just anything. They understood enough to know that whatever they worshipped had to be greater than the stars and universe they were observing. They followed the evidence the universe and all of nature presents, namely, that before and behind all we can see and observe must be something or someone much greater, much older, and much more powerful. They also understood that we don’t get to choose who or what that is because he/it already was, and all of the universe, including you and me, is subject to him/it. And, these wise men knew that the universe testifies to more than a lifeless beginning, it does not declare an it but a HIM, because it drips with wisdom, with design, with creativity, with imagination, and, especially for us to see here on earth, with life. The most natural response to these truths and realities is to worship at the feet of the one who made all of that.

Modern man likes to think of him/herself as more advanced but in truth, we are not far removed from the those who worshipped and still worship rocks, fetishes, ancestors, handmade idols, nature, or gods who resemble narcissistic flawed human beings more than the divine, all of them part of this physical world and mere human imagination. We moderns have built different altars but of the same kind and with the same limitations, altars of scientific knowledge, academia (please note I am not against either), personal spiritual truth, or general godlessness that allows to us worship whatever we want. None of these can transcend this creation but are merely part of it.

When those wise men worshipped Jesus, they worshipped him “who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8), the one true beginning from whose heart, mind, and power everything we see and perceive with our senses has originated, who will judge the living and the dead, and who alone is worthy to be worshipped, “whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne (of eternity), who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created’” Revelation 4:9-11 (ESV).

Christmas is and always has been a call to forsake idolatry, personal spiritual preferences, and ideas and instead worship Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, God with us, God Almighty, God alone.

Merry Christmas. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Psalm 150:1-6 (NLT2)

I am assuming, by the fact that you are reading this pastor’s note, that you are breathing, which means Psalm 150 above is talking about you.

You might not have enough breath to produce a blast out of the “ram’s horn,” maybe not even enough to get it to squeak, but if you have any breath you are capable of praising God, the LORD.

You might not have the skill to play the lyre, harp, strings, or flute, but if you are breathing right now you are capable of praising God, the LORD.

Your dancing days might be over and a tambourine in your hands might not be a good thing, but if you can wiggle just a bit and even if that little bit leaves you out of breath you can still and should still praise God, the LORD.

Letting you play the drums might be huge mistakes and the end of any band, but if you can bang two pots together you are capable of praising God, the LORD.

So, the question is: Are you praising God? Are you known as someone who habitually and continually praises God? Are you using your breath and the life your breath represents to praise God? Because, if I read the last line of Psalm 150 correctly, every living, breathing thing is meant to praise God, the Lord, and that includes the two living, breathing two of us.

The donkey living a few houses down uses his breath to praise God and when he does, you know it. The many birds around our houses give daily morning and evening concerts of praise even when they had a hard day or difficult week. How much more should you and I, image-bearers of God, excel in singing praises to God!

It’s a mistake to quit praising God, to shut down our ability to praise God, to use up our breath with complaints, fears, anxieties, trivialities, things that don’t deserve repeating, empty talk, ugly words, and songs dripping with negativity. Of all the creatures capable of praising God we are the ones who have to choose to do so, we can choose to so.

So, give it a try, get out a pot and a big wooden spoon, step outside with it, look up and begin praising God for his greatness and follow each statement of praise with a resounding “BANG!” On your way to work this week turn off the news, the talking heads, your song list, and instead spend some time praising God for who he is and what he has done in your life. At the dinner table share your “Today, I praise God for ….!” And next weekend, come to the “sanctuary,” God’s house, to lift up your praises alongside others who delight to use their breath to praise God.

To God be all glory! Have a great Thanksgiving. Pastor Hans

 

P.S. If you are not traveling this Thanksgiving, invite someone in your neighborhood who would otherwise be alone to be part of your Thanksgiving celebration and feast.

 

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Look carefully then how you walk (live), not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

“Get out and get me someone competent in here!” the ER doctor yelled after the assisting nurse had contaminated the sterile field while the doctor was sewing up a deep gash that exposed the kneecap. You can’t be too careful when it comes to avoiding infection.

Have you ever been to a classic car show? Talk about paying attention to every last little detail, whipping off every little spot, polishing even nooks and crannies to a full shine.

You can tell when someone is being careful about something. What we should be most careful about is how we live, specifically being a wise person down to small details of our lives, carefully avoiding any contamination of foolish behavior. In the scripture passage above Paul lays out seven marks of a wise person, of a careful follower of Christ:

  1. Wise persons/believers seek wisdom. No one comes by wisdom magically but rather by pursuing it, searching for it, and when finding it applying it.
  1. Wise persons/believers manage their time, don’t waste time, fill and spend their time wisely.
  1. Wise persons/believers not only acknowledge God but actively seek to know God’s will and then radically adjust their lives to God’s will.
  1. Wise persons/believers are careful about what controls them and avoid handing over control over to anyone but the Holy Spirit.
  1. Wise persons/believers are worshippers, not just for an hour on Sunday, but all the time. They keep their worship earbuds in all the time and have a very distinctive song list.
  1. Wise persons/believers practice and express gratitude. They notice even the small beautiful, kind, thoughtful, acts and blessings, and are good at tracing them back to their source – God.
  1. Wise persons/believers live in community, don’t isolate themselves, but acknowledge their need for one another, know the benefit of living life and serving God together.

Isn’t it strange how we can be very careful about some things while at the same time being sloppy, careless, even foolish about other things? You and I don’t have anything more valuable than the life God gave us than the living soul he created us to be. Let’s be most careful about it. Look again at the seven points above and mark the ones that need attention, need changing, need for you to learn to be careful with.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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