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Archive for the ‘civil responsibility’ Category

God Bless America

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
Psalm 67:1-7 (ESV)

It is a good thing to seek God’s blessing. We are much better off when God’s “good hand” is on us individually and collectively, and conversely, we are never in greater trouble than when God stretches out his hand against us. Which means God’s blessing is not automatic and he gets to decide the whom, what, when, and how of his blessings.

There is no problem with God’s blessing; the problems are in how we handle God’s blessings. We are not superior to the ancient Israelites who excelled at squandering God’s blessings, who didn’t use their liberty to liberate others, who didn’t use their prosperity to bless others, who when they received justice were not compelled to seek justice for others. God’s blessing did not inspire them to be more generous, more compassionate, more selfless, more forward looking, and more devoted to each other and to God. God’s blessing did not compel them to check their greed, their pride, their lusts, and their bend towards idolatry. In the end they fooled themselves into thinking that God was going to bless them because they were more special, “chosen,” “children of Abraham,” or in our case citizens of “the land of the free and the brave.”

Have you ever thought about how much more blessed we could be if we would only orient ourselves more on God, who as you read above, “judges the peoples with equity.” How much blessing have we squandered because we have not paid attention to just this one characteristic of God? There was no blessing in the treatment and genocide of Native Americans, prosperity, yes, but blessing no (remember the wicked do know how to prosper, Psalm 73:3, Job 21:7). Slavery held no blessing, but much profit. Segregation was not a snapshot of heaven. The wholesale legalization of abortion was not a victory but devalued and an entire segment of humanity among us and stripped it them of the most basic right, the right to life. There is no blessing in our staggering accumulation of debt, but it does expose our corruption, our greed, our inability to live within our means, and trusting our own wisdom more than God’s.  The need for affordable health care is not a problem for the rich, but it is for the poor, working families, and millions elderly, there is no blessing in not fixing this inequity. We squander blessing for both ourselves and the generations that follow us when we do not act towards the orphan, the widow, the poor, the alien (the foreigners among us), the weak, the oppressed, and the mistreated the way God does. We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and not desire that blessing for our “neighbor” (Luke 10:25-36).  We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and exclude him from public life, mock him in our culture, and reduce him to one among many gods. We are not immune to both burning through the inheritance left to us and adding to the list of things that are devoid of God’s blessing.

We should seek God’s blessing, it is unequivocally the right thing to do for us, for others, for the future, and before God. You and I should with all of hearts seek God’s blessing for America, so we will bless him, so He will receive the praise and honor he deserves, so we will “leave an inheritance” of blessing to our children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), an inheritance that is about more than prosperity, more than self, but instead perpetuates, “equal,” “the pursuit of happiness,” and “liberty and justice for all” (all truly meaning all, including all people and peoples).” Only then can we legitimately be called good and godly, only then can we sing, “God bless America,” and it be more than a patriotic sentiment but a sincere request of Almighty God. O that “all the ends of the earth would fear him,” know him, praise him, and worship him.

May God bless the United States of America. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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You know you can grow it, and the more you do the more you have to share, to give away.

If you have tried your hand at growing a vegetable garden you are probably familiar with both a radish and zucchini surplus. Somehow those two just love to grow faster than you can eat them. The problem is that people who love to do the vegetable garden thing usually hang out with other such people and collectively they have planted too much and thus sharing becomes a moot point. Next thing you know you see zucchinis the size of a weightlifter’s arm appear in large boxes in the foyer of the church with a desperate handwritten sign, “Free, take all you want,” but no return address.

We are meant to grow them: faith, hope, and love. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV). For four reasons: 1. They are absolutely essential to being like Christ; 2. It is impossible to please God without them; 3. They make us strong; 4. They enable us, force us to set out our boxes of surplus, because they are a lot more valuable and needed than zucchini and radishes, and should never go to waste.

We are also meant to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, in the midst of a godless, struggling, dark and often hostile world, But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 3:18 (ESV). I am pretty sure we are meant to export that too.

Can you imagine your life, your (our) church, your (our) community, your (our) country with an overabundance of faith, hope, love, grace, and life in Christ? Daily packing a box full, considering ourselves to be the sign that reads, “Free, take all you need,” and then taking our overflowing box to where it is most needed, to where or to whom you might not want to go but the Holy Spirit compels you to go.

Faith, Hope, Love, Grace, Christ seek engagement, want to flow like water, want to light up the dark, bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the weeping, feed the poor, heal the sick, liberate the captives, awaken justice, ennoble politics, replace hatred, battle evil, and save the lost.

So grow, grow, grow and go, go, go – in Jesus’ name.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Greatness

They were rebuilding the temple, the capital, their country. They celebrated, shouted, danced, and had a great ceremony when they dedicated the new temple foundation. It was the right thing to do, this was a great day, things were going upward. Some however, a small crowd of old people, wept (Ezra 3:12). They remembered the old temple, the one Solomon had built, the time when silver was counted as nothing because of the abundance of gold (2 Chronicles 9:20). Haggai the prophet told Zerubbabel to ask those old survivors, Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” Haggai 2:3 (NIV).

Great, Greatness looks different to different people. The CEO might be celebrated by the shareholders because the stock price went through the roof, but the workforce might be cursing his name because their work conditions and meager wages. There all kinds of halls of fame, awards ceremonies, and prestigious prizes (especially here in America), all of them highlighting and celebrating greatness in some field, but while some cheer others weep, what looks good on the stage might me misery at home.

Of course I am bringing all this up because the words “greatness,” “being great again,” is echoing across the land, primarily in terms of patriotism, protectionism, power, and prosperity. We will be great when we are first, when we win, when we prosper.

In some ways there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t just want to be mediocre, no good citizen wants their country to be so-so, and certainly not be a mess. There are noble aspirations. But just what and who defines noble aspirations for a person and a people? Not you and me, not the cheers of the masses, not the memories of the aged, not the evaluations of the experts, not who has the most, not who is the most eloquent, accomplished, or educated. God alone is able to define true greatness, for the simple and most obvious reason, there is no one greater. His greatness has never faded, it bears no flaw, it is unchallenged and glorious beyond compare. The greatness of God also informs us that true greatness and morality are never separated; we cannot be truly great and be unholy.

When God the Son, Jesus Christ, walked among us in human flesh he confronted his followers, his disciples on the issue of greatness. Their aspirations were unholy, they were jockeying for cabinet posts, they thought it was mainly about national politics and to simply make Israel great again. Scheming behind the scenes – acceptable. No transparency – acceptable. Not caring about some – acceptable. Making it all about power – acceptable. So “He (Jesus Christ) asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” Mark 9:33-35 (ESV).

“But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many’” Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT).

We are called to flesh out this kind of greatness. We are not at liberty to reduce Jesus’ clear instruction and command (“must”) to merely our private sphere. We must take on the challenge to realize Christlike greatness in all personal, public, political, and pressing realities of our day. We will never be really great unless our definition of greatness matches God’s. We will never be really great if our aspirations for greatness do not inspire what is good and right and holy, right where we live and for all people/s.

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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Arrogant and haughty winners, sore and bitter losers are one of the perils of democracy, of voting on people, platforms, policies, programs, and propositions. Votes give permission and control, but they don’t automatically settle things and heal. In fact at the end of a vote the division, dissension, and drama might be greater than they were before the vote.

On the heels of a long, nasty, and divisive presidential election, the calls for “working together,” “laying aside partisanship,” “reaching across the aisle,” “extending olive branches,” etc. can be heard, but if the past is a good predictor of the future then we are hearing mostly empty words.

I know politics isn’t church (and sadly too often church politics are indistinguishable), but we’d be better off if we had more church in politics. The church is God’s assembly of people who have above all a belief in and a commitment to follow Jesus Christ according to the Bible (God’s written word/revelation) in common. The Greek word translated “church” is “ekklesia,” the term used for the electorate of ancient Greek democracies. If you were part of the “ekkletoi,” you had a voice, a vote, and a responsibility to show up and to serve as the assembly saw fit.

The church is God’s “ekklesia” and functions best in open acknowledgment of God, in submission to God, and with a heart to glorify God. Hubris plagues mankind in general and winners in particular, and godlessness magnifies it.

People are the most important commodity in the church. Church people often address each other with “sister” or “brother” because when you look at, care for, and treat each other like brothers and sisters you are starting to get it.

Moral values, godly ethical standards, and beliefs are indispensible to the functioning of the church and are no less so to any people. We disintegrate, fracture, exploit and turn on each other without them. The highest of these is selfless, sacrificing love. Honesty/truth-telling, respect, decency, generosity, non-violence, dependability, eschewing vices, accountability, and discerning and resisting evil are a few others.

Values and beliefs are worthless if they are not practiced. It is when they have become habitual that they set the standard. In church everyone benefits if all continually show up and serve, if all read the Bible and apply it, if everybody prays, if every last one is committed to grow in love, wisdom, kindness, goodness, selflessness, and as person.

Maybe you are thinking, “There he goes again, the preacher preaching and dreaming away, with little connection to reality.” But just as a church is sunk without unity, so is a nation. The history of this our nation records a bloody civil war; it was preceded by voting that only deepened the divide. It was also preceded by giving a lot of lip-service to God while ignoring his will and ways. We as a people and Christians in particular, need to bring more church into our politics, our interactions – the way we care for one another as brothers and sisters. Someone has to be willing begin and then continue with the healing, bridging the divides, practicing the reality that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Evil, evil men and women, our own sinful bend will fan the divisive flames that have marked this election and us as a people. This is not the time to pack it in till the next vote, this is the time for you and me and our politicians to put more church into politics.

To God be all glory. May God help and bless us as a people. Pastor Hans

 

 

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And so blessing and cursing (truth and lies) come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! …

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:10&13-18 (NLT, parenthesis mine)

If someone’s words don’t match their actions, which do you believe? Or more importantly, can you believe them?

At a party attended by only white people is it okay to talk about black people in degrading fashion and muse on how to exploit them? At party of all black people is it okay talk about white people in a degrading fashion and consider how to exploit them? Is degrading and predatory talk about women, which includes my wife and girls, really okay because it is boys letting loose on a bus or because there is a lot of testosterone in the “locker room?” And if I do, what does that say about me?

If you get caught speeding in a 25 mph school zone, are you not guilty because you didn’t see the posted signs? And if the officer points to the sign you just ignored is it a legitimate defense to claim that you have no idea what that sign actually means? And if you top it off by telling the highway patrol that this has never happened to you, but when she checks your record that turns out to be lie, what are the chances of you not getting a ticket? If you destroy evidence after being it being subpoenaed, and if you repeatedly don’t tell the truth about the same matter, can you claim to be trustworthy?

I suppose this has always frustrated us about our politicians and politics, this discrepancy between words and actions, public image and the truth, those slick presentations and actual agendas, the promises made, not to keep, but to tell us what we like to hear, mouths incongruent with closed doors behaviors, the things shown and that which no one is supposed to see and know.

In most big elections I have witnessed the answers to this discrepancy has been, (1) that is just the other side running a smear campaign, (2) character, morals, and ethics are overrated, they are not nearly as important as getting things done, (3) politics is not for squeaky clean choir-boys/girls, it’s a contact sport.

True, politics isn’t any cleaner than running a dairy farm, there is a whole lot of s…/cow-pucky. Sooner than later you will step into some, have some flung at you, or get it on you some way or another. You will have to deal with it on a continual basis; it is an ever present reality. But I also know this, some dairies are a lot cleaner than others, and that depends entirely on the farmer, the person in charge, and how important running the farm clean is to him or her. I also venture to say that the cows’ welfare has a lot to do with how all of this inevitable manure is dealt with. One thing’s for sure, slinging manure, pointing out how filthy others are, or excusing your own crap doesn’t do anything as far as cleaning yourself up or staying clean goes.

I have been encouraging you to be fully engaged with your God-given political responsibly, including your vote. The present dirtiness should offend us but not disengage us. We would do well if what we require of, what we wished were true of our candidates are the standards we set for ourselves, and that we check those standards to what God expects of us personally and collectively.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Did you ever not really want do it, the right thing, the pressing thing, the needed thing that is? That for which you were born, for which the sovereignty and providence of God had placed you there and then (and here and now)? That which makes you have to decide between what is good for you and what is good for others, between playing it safe and risky, between comfortable and suffering, between carefree and weighty responsibility, between your will and God’s will?

Often we talk about politics and politicians in ways that depicts the whole thing as them versus us. We freely express our disapproval, our disappointment, our frustration with “them,” the Washington establishment, the president, Congress, the courts, the EPA, FDA, DHS, …, and often very justifiably so. We bemoan the partisanship, the corruption, the fiscal irresponsibility and waste, the disconnectedness, the shortsightedness, double speak, the lack of morality, and … We want more honesty, more integrity, more selflessness, more restraint, and more wisdom from those politicians, judges, and officials. We wish for more caring for what is good for all for the long term rather than what is good for just some, and worse, what is merely good to staying in power. We want treasured values to be upheld, not undermined, or for sale to the highest bidder, or prostituted to garner ratings and votes. Those people in Washington D.C. and Sacramento need to get it together!

Like many of you I received my absentee ballot this past week, it is reminder that you and I have political responsibility beyond opining and complaining. We have a responsibility to participate, to embrace our part, to practice the very integrity, selflessness, discipline, foresight, caring, and wisdom we have judged our politicians and leaders lack.

Politics, power, and influence always walk together. You combine the power of a large group if small, seemingly insignificant, people and their influence grows as well. They might even become a movement that changes the political landscape. One person embracing God’s will, taking up the responsibility the power and influence granted to him/her can make a huge difference in a family, community, a nation, in this world (e.g. Joseph, Genesis 37-50). The fact that the two candidates, one of whom will most likely be the next US president, are deeply flawed, rate low on the truth telling index, do not have a track record that inspires trust, and are dogged by corruption and scandal is also a reflection and indictment of the politicians at the most grassroots level, the voters, you and me. In the 2012 presidential election less than 55% of the total electorate voted, more than half of evangelical Christians abdicated their responsibility to vote. These are staggering statistics testifying of political and spiritual irresponsibility and disengagement.

The two highest values in the universe are loving God and loving people, caring about cares about and caring for others like we care about ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). Both of these values will lead you and me to service, serving God, serving others, serving our nation, serving the world. Those values will call us to do things we don’t really want to do, things that stand in the way of self-serving, self-indulgence, self-seeking, and the like. Those values will compel us to be engaged, to embrace every responsibility, every opportunity to influence our world to the glory of God.

Mordecai posed a rhetorical question to his niece Esther, the queen of Persia, who hesitated to become politically involved, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (NIV). Of course she was! Just like God has placed you and me into this time with power and influence to affect lives and politics for the glory of God. And so we must chose both at the ballot box and in the daily voting of our lives.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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