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Archive for the ‘civil responsibility’ Category

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

It is tough to be merciful with a hard heart and it is impossible to be godly and Christlike with a hard heart.

It is a lot easier to accuse everyone else of wrong, of hardness of heart than to address our own heart condition.

At the Sabbath (church) service they were hoping Jesus would do something they could nail him on (sad). You can be sure your heart is hard when you’re waiting for people to mess up. What would he do for the man with the crippled hand? Would he break the man-made Sabbath interpretations and regulations? If he did, they were ready to pounce, to accuse, to raise a stink – something hard hearts love to do.

Jesus didn’t disappoint, in fact, he called the disabled man up front, had him stretch out his crippled hand (the thing he was hiding) for all to see, and healed him. However, before doing so he asked a question, “Is it lawful on Sabbath to do good or to harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). That’s an easy question with an easy answer, but they didn’t want to answer, hard hearts hate to be exposed to be cornered, to answer questions that prove them wrong.

Their hardness of heart made Jesus angry and it grieved him. They were willing to let a man stay crippled for the sake of their man-made rules, their authority to enforce them, and their way of life. You know your heart is hard when there is an opportunity to do good and show compassion and you bypass it not because God’s law is hindering you, but because you love your own way, rules, opinions, and politics more.

Jesus healed the crippled man. The Synagogue should’ve exploded with cheers and praise, but hard hearts have a hard time cheering for those who expose them, even when they do incredible good. Instead, there is an eerie silence in the synagogue following the healing. I have to believe there were some who wanted to cheer and clap, but, to their shame, they let themselves be held in check by the hard hearts of their leaders. They were waiting to see what their leaders, their group would do and then, regrettably, fell in line with the silence when “Hallelujahs” were in order. Silence produced by hardness of heart is never good.

Rather than change those religious hard hearts “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” Mark 3:6 (NIV). Hard hearts find each and encourage each other (as do tender hearts). Can you see Jesus at any border hiding behind man-made rules? Would Christ applaud Captain Carola Rackete who steered Sea-Watch 3 filled with refugees into an Italian harbor although she was ordered not to and was promptly arrested? Who have you been criticizing, deploring, so much so that you can longer see any good they do? Are you staying silent both in the face of wrong and good because that is not what your group, your party, opposes and does not cheer? Towards whom do you have a hard heart?

Porosis is the Greek word used here by Mark. They had porosis of the heart, “moral ossification” (Robertson), the hardening of muscle tissue, meaning that which was meant to be soft became hard. The other word used in the New Testament for hardness of heart is sklerokardia. Maybe you have heard of osteoporosis – bones becoming brittle or arteriosclerosis – hardening/thickening of the arteries. You can go to the doctor for these conditions, although they are not necessarily easy to treat. Who do you go to with hardness of heart? God. You and I can trust him when he says, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT2).

Don’t live another week with hardness of heart.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Christians at the Ballot Box – Voting with Your Ballot, Voting with Your Life

Christians throughout history have gotten into hot water because being a Christian means being a citizen of heaven, of the kingdom of God, with Christ as king, “… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ …” Philippians 3:20 (ESV). We value this citizenship above all others and our allegiance to Christ and his kingdom supersedes all other allegiances we might have. This is why Christians have been accused of treason and being disloyal to their country and earthly citizenship(s). This is why Christians have disobeyed laws that violated the laws and values of the kingdom of God and Christ the King. This is why the followers of Jesus have refused to blindly hitch their wagon to particular political movements, and never feel fully comfortable and at home until the return of our king. This is why true followers of Jesus seek his approval and the implementation of his will in all and above all else and are willing to pay the price this allegiance exacts in its interactions with the kingdoms and authorities of this world.

I am privileged to hold two earthly citizenships (United States and German); both of them are coveted by people around the world. It says something when people want to come to our land and neighborhoods. It means we are privileged and blessed to have abundance, opportunity, liberty, and a measure of peace, otherwise they would not want to come. According to the values of our heavenly citizenship that gives both the opportunity do good and the responsibility to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

The Apostle Paul also held two earthly citizenships (Jewish and Roman). The one that was coveted in his day was Roman Citizenship. The Bible records a conversation between Paul and a Roman Commander who was about to treat and punish him like Non-Roman, “The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he answered. Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied (Acts 22:27-28 (NIV). Obviously, his Roman citizenship was advantageous to Paul and he did not hesitate to make use of what it afforded him, it was a privilege that he was born into, he was blessed with, and one which he did not abuse but instead used for the purposes of God. Neither his Jewish heritage and citizenship nor his Roman citizenship were his highest allegiance, his heavenly citizenship was. In fact, he didn’t think that they even came close to comparing (Read all of Philippians 3). In the end, it was his allegiance to Christ and his heavenly citizenship that brought him into conflict and cost him his life. He rightly thought it was worth it.

Hopefully, you will take your earthly/US citizenship seriously enough fulfill the responsibility of your right to vote come November 6th, but when you fill out your ballot, do so as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, reflecting the will and honor of Christ and his kingdom.

To God be all glory. Vote! Pastor Hans

 

 

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Springtime, wake up time for rodents, ants, spiders, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and bugs. I know, spring doesn’t officially begin until March 20th, 9:15 am to be exact. But the above-mentioned critters don’t give a hoot about official anything, nor do they respect boundaries, comfort, property rights, or someone else’s hard work. They do pretty much whatever they want, wherever they want, and whenever they want.  They come by stealth, mass invasion, through the air, underground, at high noon, twilight, and under the cover of night. Relentless I tell you, destructive, unapologetic, and even dangerous.

I want them gone, out of my yard, away from my home, gone. If you want them, if your heart has a soft-spot for them, you can have them, the whole lot. A spider on my bedroom ceiling is not going to get the chance to play cat burglar and lower its multi-eyed self down on my bed in the middle of the night; it is going to get “splat!” The ground squirrels, wood-rats, mice, gophers, moles, voles will not encounter kind mercy; they will be trapped, shot, and poisoned when possible. The wasp eying my steak in its shifty flight will be permanently uninvited. The ants trying to homestead around 10417 Blanchard Road will meet the full brunt of available extermination methods. Not a single mosquito, kissing bug, beg bug, or termite will be tolerated, be invited to take a little sip or take a small bite, nor be merely trapped and released. Flies will be met by swatters, fly-papers, scented traps, and available chemicals; they will never receive permission for fly or stopovers.

Striking, isn’t it, how the first paragraph above could easily describe wicked men and women, mankind in unrestrained sinfulness, and how the second paragraph could easily portray the harsh and merciless measures and attitudes mankind has used against each other.  Is it right to hate wickedness, to yearn for and work toward a world without it? Absolutely, but we have to be careful not to act wicked our own self. Keeping critters and pests out of my house is different from stomping on them when I go on a hike. I can put up screens and seal cracks before getting out the swatter or setting deadly traps.

Of course, there is also the matter of worth. There is no question that even the life of the ground squirrel living under our playhouse and undermining the old trees in my backyard is amazing, regardless of it shamelessly mocking me this morning. However, there is a difference between all men being created equal and in the image of God, and all life being created equal. The first is true the second is unsustainable. So who gets to assign worth? God does, and has, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26 (NIV). I hope you notice that different worth does not mean God doesn’t care about all of his creation, in fact not a single sparrow falls from the sky apart from God or is forgotten by God (Matthew 20:29; Luke 12:6-7). Obviously, for God, there is no tension counting a person as more valuable than a bird. For us, however, there is great tension in managing God’s creation responsibly, daily living and survival, and our own sinfulness.

I imagine that God is vastly more disturbed about the wickedness of mankind, one person treating another, valuing another like a rodent, like a pest than you and I are about actual rodents and pests. God could have responded to our wickedness without mercy but instead, he both reaffirmed our value and his great love for every man and every woman in the cross of Christ. Because of his great mercy and love he “is not slow in keeping his promise (of final judgment and justice on all wickedness), as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV, parenthesis mine). We, the church, followers of Christ, worshippers of the one living God should do no less, at home, in our communities, our countries, our politics, our policies, and our attitudes.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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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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On Monday I was driving past Merced Junior College on Yosemite Avenue. On the front lawn there was a display of rows and rows of American flags in preparation for Veterans Day. It caused me to slow down and remember how much I have benefited from the service of American soldiers. Before I was born, it was American servicemen and women who turned the tide against Hitler’s plans of evil and world tyranny; it was American soldiers who safeguarded a completely unarmed and vulnerable West Germany from the spread and domination of Soviet communism. It was American military might that was the deterrent throughout the Cold War and afforded me to grow up with all the liberties that Americans hold dear. All these many veterans have impacted my life; have afforded me choices I might not otherwise have had.

Driving by the Veterans Day flag memorial I also thought of the American Army Soldiers my Dad invited into our home to spend Christmas with us. It was a program sponsored by the nearby army base. My Dad always requested a black soldier because for one they were harder to place and because he wanted us grow up with less prejudice than he did. He wanted us to see beyond skin color, something that became important to him through his involvement with the YMCA in the early post WWII years. Remember there was still a draft in those years. Those young men might have served for all kinds of reasons, and certainly they little or nothing to do with the larger political machinations that impacted and determined their lives, but neither did I. What I do know is I have immeasurably benefited from their lives and service.

Now I am old enough to run into veterans whom I taught in school, coached in basketball or soccer, took to camps, and/or pastured as they grew up in Don Pedro. I have brother-in-laws who have retired from military service. I have talked with, counseled, and pray with Veterans with deep scars and burdens. I lead a little church and Sunday after Sunday there are Veterans who come to worship to pray, to learn to live like Jesus. I have a sense of indebtedness, of deep gratitude because of the impact they have had on my life, my family, my opportunities, and my safety.

It is easy to forget how deeply we are tied to history, to who and what came before us, to forget how intertwined our lives are with the lives of others right now; to forget that much of the good and best in our lives is connected to the service of others; to forget how much we benefit from battles others have fought; to forget God has assigned us all to be contributors to history and will hold us accountable as such; to forget to be grateful and contribute ourselves to a better world, to freedom, to safety, to justice, to civic courage, and to honor. So I give thanks to God for each Veteran who has and is contributing like that; may God bless you.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

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How much can one story change things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Of Wind, Fear, Ignorance, and Hard-hearted Christians

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them,  but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out,  for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:47-52 (ESV)

Jesus’ followers, his disciples, Christians are supposed to have growing, tender, compassionate, merciful, and visionary hearts and minds, but the disciples’ hearts “were hardened,” their understanding was lacking. Why?

  1. The winds were contrary – Giving in

It is frustrating when you are rowing for hours and aren’t getting anywhere, when you get blown backwards the second you relax. We live in times of   contrary winds, in constant gusts of fear, terror, senselessness, corruption, and violence. It is easy to have your heart grow hard there, to simply give   yourself over to the direction of the winds of our times, to be swept up by nationalism, racism, extremism, or escapism and apathy.

  1. They saw a “ghost” – Returning to old scripts and ways

They went right back to thinking and reacting like they would have before they met Jesus, to who they were and believed before they responded to   Jesus’ call to follow him. They returned to their version of syncretism, their preferred spiritual drink made up of the religion they were raised in, their       cultural superstitions, and their personal fears. Just like us, they chucked all they knew about Jesus, all he had taught them, all the experiences they had with him, the moment something looked and felt frightening. I am amazed at how many of my brothers and sisters and Christ are falling headlong to         the frightening things of our day, to the rhetoric of fear, to the thinking we have to old onto all that is dear to us before we lose it all and in the process have no vision and hunger for Christ’s kingdom, which is marked by love, justice, life, and all things of eternal value. Jesus first words to his tired,             frustrated, and frightened disciples was, “It’s me! Don’t be afraid.”

  1. They did not understand – they had not learned from the past

They failed to connect what Jesus had just demonstrated to them earlier in the day to their present situation, to their fears, and to override their old    ways of seeing and responding to things. They really did not understand, but Jesus thought they should have. Christians should know by now that    the results are disastrous, bloody, cruel, and outright evil when nationalism, racism, atheism, and extremism is let out of the box, even, or especially, if it is mixed with a little Bible. They should have known that     Jesus could and would take care of them that they had nothing to fear, that he who sent them to go across the lake would also get them there regardless of the winds, regardless of their fears, and regardless of how difficult things were.

So how are the winds of our time affecting you my brothers and sisters in Christ? How filled with fear, trepidation, and negativity are you? Which voices are you listening to, who has your ear? Are you applying the lessons Jesus has taught you in both life and the scriptures to the present, to your fears, to the current issues, to your politics, to your engagement with our world as a servant of Jesus? Or are you adjusting scripture to accommodate your easier sailing, to give your fears free reign, to excuse your negativity, to settle for something less than Christ’s kingdom, to justify the unjust, to mix the drink you like and have always liked? Is your understanding of Christ and his kingdom (rule) growing, is your heart growing softer?

Regardless of the frightening winds of our time Jesus still says to us, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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