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Archive for the ‘civil responsibility’ 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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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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