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Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

If you were in the direct path of a category 5 hurricane and someone told of a way to keep you, your family, and your neighbors completely save, would you pay attention? If that person told you that you not to board up the house but instead have a barbeque with some very specific ingredients and instructions, would you take her serious, or would you politely smile and get the plywood, hammer, and nails?

A spiritual storm was brewing in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had turned on people they once had invited, the Hebrews. Their solution was to oppress this growing minority who was threating to dilute all things Egyptian, so they reduced them to the status of slaves. What the Egyptians didn’t know was that God, for reasons only known to himself, has a special place in his heart for the Hebrews and for all who are oppressed. When the Hebrews demanded liberty, the right to leave, Pharaoh and the Egyptian leadership balked and cracked down harder. Even repeated calamities (known as the 10 plagues) that were unquestionably by the hand of God did not soften their hearts and change their minds and policies. (I wonder what kind of spiritual and political stubbornness, directly opposed to God’s will, besets you and me?) The last of the 10 judgments was that God would strike every male firstborn in Egypt dead. I wonder if the Egyptian leaders laughed in disbelief when Moses announced it to them. After all, how could that possibly happen? I wonder what the Hebrews thought when Moses told them of both the judgment and the only way to escape it. Which brings us back to the barbeque, better known as the Passover (Exodus 12).

Passover is so called because those who observed the first Passover where kept save from the judgment of the death of the firstborn, the angels dispatched to carry out this particular judgment “passed over” every home with the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorjamb and lintel. Besides slaughtering, grilling, and eating sheep or goat yearling, they were also supposed to bake only unleavened bread, and supposed to be ready and dressed to leave Egypt for good. Every Passover since recalls and remembers this event, and that in the wake of it the Egyptians finally relented and let Hebrews leave.

So, what did this have to do with Corinthians Christians (Greeks) 1500 years later, and how is this relevant to you and me 3500 years later? The greatest storm, the final calamity, the full judgment of God regarding all mankind, including you and me, is still to come, and we only have this life to prepare for it. There is no second chance after the night of death, “the day of the Lord?” We like the ancient Hebrews need both liberation and protection from God’s judgment, we need to leave the land of slavery and journey into God’s promises. Sin will not release its slaves voluntarily and God’s judgment will not just arbitrarily pass us by, we need salvation. Without the blood of Jesus Christ, the unblemished sinless lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, without his blood applied to the doorposts of our lives, we will not survive when God will summon the living and the dead before his throne of judgment. The ancient Passover points to the ultimate Passover, Jesus Christ.

So, in the ancient Passover the lamb is Jesus, the blood is his, the bread without leaven, Christ the sinless one. We are the ones dressed to journey, ready to live by faith, willing to trust the word and promises of God, leaving sin (leaven) and its slavery behind, ready to build a different kind of world, one that reflects the rulership, the holiness, and the heart of God.

You would think that all of this is a no brainer, but it wasn’t for the ancient Egyptians, nor was it for the Hebrews, or us today. The Egyptians hung on to their gods, even when they were exposed as impotent and dead idols, just like we hang on to our own beliefs and opinions. The Hebrews constantly wanted to go back, they wanted something less challenging than a life of faith, even if it meant slavery. The Corinthians divorced religious ritual from affecting real life, they hung the traveling clothes in the closet and sang to Jesus while being morally corrupt gorging on leavened bread. And then of course there is us, you and me. What is, and what will be your Passover reality?

T God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans.

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The tickets were booked a long time ago but today is the last day before the trip, that means last minute stuff. I am always glad when I am finally in my seat and the plane is accelerating down the runway, I feel like I can relax at that point. Well, the relaxation point is still some hours out, which brings me back to last minute stuff. Obviously this pastor’s note is one of those things to get done before hopping in the car to drive to airport.

There is something about time running out, invariably some things don’t get done because they have to be done, they’re just not that important. The level of important things that needed to be done and actually got done depends on how little you procrastinated and how well you prepared. The last minute stress level depends on how much last minute stuff you let pile up in relation to how little time is left. It also depends on how many people are depending on you. And it depends on how many unexpected things crop up at the last minute. A pig pile of last minute stuff drenched in a downpour of the unexpected will make your eyes twitch.

All of our tickets have been booked, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be Psalm 139:16 (NIV). With each passing day everyone of is getting closer to our departure. Our upcoming trip has both a first stop and a final destination, that’s how it is with everyone’s final trip. The first stop, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”  Hebrews 9:27 (NIV). The final destination depends on who you booked with, but it will either be heaven or hell, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal lifeMatthew 25:46 (NASB).

I have been a preacher for over thirty years and it has been my experience that in general people do not prepare for the final trip. They leave messes their children and family have to sort out, they life lives with little or no thought of God’s judgment, they book trips into eternity depending on themselves, trusting in human philosophy, scientific enlightenment, and man-made religion to either avoid or prepare them for a complete accounting before God, believing good thoughts and sentimentality can both keep them out of hell and propel them into heaven. There is no peace, no assurance, no hope in any of that. The reality of being unprepared is that all piles up until it is too late, until not only the unimportant is left undone but also the essential. The truth is that anyone who books his or her journey into eternity through anyone but Christ is unprepared.

Now Matthew 25 Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there are those who smugly and glibly claim Christ but their attitudes and actions reveal who they really have booked with. They fool themselves into thinking they are going to one place but will end up in another.

I stood by the bedside of a dying man. He hadn’t expected for his final trip to come this soon. He’d gone church off and on. He could claim a religious episode, but he knew he was unprepared just hours before takeoff. He had wasted life on himself. Is there hope for someone like him? The answer is, YES! All of us will be found wanting at the first stop of the final journey, none of us has enough merit to stay out of hell, not a single one of us can pay for the ticket on the jet bound for heaven, Jesus Christ graciously and mercifully has paid for that. Book with him and live for him now, not later.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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“What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart,” is what Rufus H. McDaniel penned. He restated what is true of everyone who opens his heart to Jesus Christ and follows him. “Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” Luke 5:27-32 (NLT).

Levi had traded one form emptiness for another, he had left the morally bankrupt form of Judaism that he grew up in for the morally, though vastly more lucrative, empty world of tax collecting. And he couldn’t point fingers, although he probably did, it does deceive and ease the conscience when you can indict someone else’s corruption, failure, and sin. I it also leaves empty.

He had his own booth, he wasn’t sitting in someone else’s booth. He was in charge here, we like to be in charge. But how much was he really in charge of? More than some, and not much in the big scheme of things. We are good at forgetting how little we are in charge of.

Wonder what Levi was listening to there in his own tax booth? Conservative talk? Probably not. Liberal talk? Maybe. Religious stations? Nah. Jewish country music? Roman rock? Classical from the time of David? Whatever he listened to it wasn’t along the lines Rufus H. McDaniel penned.

He wanted change, he needed change. Chucking God was not the answer, great money wasn’t either, godlessness and the love of money don’t just leave you empty, they suck you into the darkness of evil. It wasn’t just that others were dishonest, he was too. It wasn’t just others who were self-righteous he was too.

Then Jesus, the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), walked by his tax booth. Levi had heard about what he did earlier that that, healing a paralytic, forgiving his sins. Now he was standing at the counter of his tax office, looking him straight into the eye and invited him to follow him.

How long did it take for Levi to make up his mind? Not long. How long is it going to take you reading this p-note to make your mind? Levi got out his keys, put the money in the safe, locked the front door and followed Christ. He was changed right there, in that moment of making up his mind that and stepping out in faith to follow Christ he was changed, though not finished. I wonder if he would have agreed with Rufus H. McDaniel’s words? Undoubtedly.

He couldn’t wait to introduce all of his tax collecting buddies and the people he cared about to Christ. So he invited them and Jesus to his house, they needed him as much as he did? That’s what happens when Jesus changes you; it’s too good to keep to yourself. You can hoard money, you won’t hoard Christ once he looked you in the eye and you took him up on his invitation to follow him, when he has forgiven your sins, when he reconciles you with God, and when he imparts to you new and eternal life. Levi had not been physically ill, but he was spiritually dead, like all of us, and “a wonderful change in his life had been wrought when Jesus cam into his heart!”

I hope this true of you as well.

To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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How Many Nails in Easter?

The answer is five, Easter has five nails.

On what do hang your hopes? Good luck? Your wealth? Your health? Your family and friends? Your own intelligence? An experimental drug? …?

What nail does your future hang on? Your charisma? Some special ability? …?

I have seen my fair share of rusty, bent, and failed nails – in hospital rooms, hospice beds, at crash sites, in treatment centers, living rooms, jails, prisons, counseling sessions, and at gravesides. I have not only seen them I have experienced failed nails in my own life, the pain, the confusion, the grief, and disappointment that comes with hanging life on the wrong nails.

Those Easter nails are significant because they offer us our only shot at real hope, lasting life, getting it right before God. You hang your hopes and your life on anything else and you will in the end find it all broken on the floor like a picture that has fallen off the wall.

Five nails. Three made sure Jesus really died. They fastened his hands and feet to a cross until every ounce of his life was drained out. On those three nails hang the redemptive purposes of God. God sacrificed his own Son so that by his death we might have life. One nail held Pilate’s sign posted above Jesus’ head, declaring “the King of the Jews.” Pilate made a common mistake. He didn’t think Jesus had any significance for him. He didn’t post his complete title, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” He, like you and I, should have hung his life on Jesus’ identity, but he relegated Jesus to only having significance for the Jews, good for someone else. He stuck with the rusty nails of his own beliefs. And there is the fifth nail, the one that nailed God’s indictment of each one of us to the cross of Christ, the one that lists our personal sins and transgressions, the one that renders each one of us guilty before God. Paul reminded the Colossians who had trusted in Christ, “He made you alive with Him (Christ) and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14 (HCSB, parenthesis mine). It is the nail that spells hope and life for sinners.

This Easter examine the nails and make sure  your hopes, your future, your life hangs on the Easter nails.

To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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I wonder how many sermons have been preached on Numbers 5:11-31? That’s the passage the outlines the procedure of a jealous husband bringing his wife to the priest because he suspects her of adultery. She has to drink water mixed with some dirt from the sanctuary and the ink with which the curses were wrote down. If she is innocent no harm no foul, if she is guilty she’ll end up childless with swollen belly and shriveled thighs. If you are grinning I don’t blame you, because so was I on reading Numbers 5 again. I also felt this tremendous sense of relief that my pastoral duties do not include administering this procedure; I don’t want to have anything to do with women’s shriveled thighs and swollen bellies. I do however have some questions:

  • How often was this actually practiced? Because what husband with even an ounce of smarts will subject his wife to this kind of humiliation. If she passes the test and emerges unshriveled I venture to guess that all kinds of things shriveled in her heart concerning what she feels about her husband.
  • Why are there no repercussions for the husband falsely accusing his wife? I take that back, he will have repercussions. “Babe, can’t you just let it go? I only did it because I love you so much.”
  • Why is there no equivalent procedure for the wife to put her husband through, to shrivel some of his parts? He probably will grow the gut all on his own.
  • How would this fly in my own life? “Susie, you’d better not mess with me or else it’s some bitter water for you.” Nah, I don’t think she’d ever think that was funny. Can you feel the ice?

There probably were some good reasons for this section of the Old Testament Law. Jealous husbands can be impossible to deal with and this allowed an innocent wife to establish her innocence, “If you don’t believe me then take me to the priest.” More importantly, no matter how strange this ritual may seem to us, is the fact that God sees and God knows the truth about each one of us. He knows what we are innocent of and what we are guilty of. A jealous husband might make his wife’s life miserable for something she has not done, but God never does that to us. We can rely on God for truth, fairness, and justice.

The complete truth about each one of us is that we are guilty, that we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), that we are all slowly shriveling up. That’s why we need more than truth, fairness, and justice, they cannot erase our guilt or deliver us from its consequences and penalty, for that we need mercy, grace, and forgiveness that only God can give, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).

That dumb jealous husband dragging his wife before the priest has a dilemma. If she is found guilty he has to decide whether to forgive her or not. If she is found innocent he will need her forgiveness. The truth exposed will shrivel something, something that only mercy, grace and forgiveness can restore. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32, NASB).
To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17 (NASB)

God loved, God gave, God send his Son to save – that is the reality of Christmas, it is the essence of the Good News, the Gospel. Out of all the messages you and I get throughout our lifetimes that’s the most important one.

Maybe you are the kind of texter whose thumbs move as fast as the wings of a hummingbird, but I am dismally slow, keep hitting the wrong keys, and frequently manage to send my texts before I am ready. Ready or not, once the send button is pushed there is no stopping it, it is unleashed. Christmas is about God pressing the “send” key.

Love made God do it, his love recognized the need, his love compelled him to give, his love pushed the “send” key. Real love is not blind, God’s love is not blind, it recognized that we are indeed perishing. Our mortality, our finiteness, our imperfection, and our sinfulness all testify to the reality that we are perishing. We are completely powerless, utterly impotent to change any of them. God could have sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to judge the world, you and me, but he send him to save us. The judgment we deserve the saving we need, his love made that decision.

Maybe you are among those who think that you do not need Christ, that you have no need to be saved. Maybe you have decided that all of this is just a bunch of hogwash, religious baloney, or outright #^@#*! If so, that puts you at odds with no one else but God himself; it has you defining spiritual reality in complete opposition to God. It is vastly more probable that you are wrong and God is right. What is amazing that, in spite of our arrogance, denials, and outright rejection of truth and God himself, he still pressed the “sent” key; he still addressed our need, our helplessness, our perishing, by giving his Son.

How many Decembers have you lived through? 10, 20, 30, 50, 90, or more? Did December ever have just 28 days, or 30? In my 54 Decembers it has always been 31 days? And nothing has changed about both our need to be saved and God’s love willing and able to save us through Christ. He pressed the “send” key, not accidently, but deliberately, and out his unfathomless love. All that remains is for you and me to receive the message and believe in his Son. That’s the wonder of Christmas. “But as many as received Him (Jesus Christ), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” John 1:12 (NASB, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

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I didn’t learn everything I ever needed to know in Kindergarten. I did start ditching though and I learned about bullying. I didn’t learn everything in first and second grade either, but I did learn to read and that there are some terrific teachers. I didn’t learn everything in grades three and four but I learned to both fear and respect Herr Weiermueller, aka Kaiser Red Beard, who was tough as nails and cared at the same time. After 4th grade things seemed to spiral downward and it seems that if I had learned everything in Kindergarten then grades five through 10 would not have been such a struggle, but if you would have asked me back then I would’ve claimed to know pretty much everything and that my teachers, parents, and everyone who disagreed knew nothing (but there really were some dinkeldorfers among them). I learned a lot during my year as an exchange student but a far cry from everything I ever needed to know. College, graduate school, seminary taught me a lot, including stuff I never wanted to learn but someone thought I should.

Besides all of this formal education, like you, I was enrolled in the school of life from the day the midwife spanked my behind which caused me to cry out, “Present!” However the school of life doesn’t teach everything either. It lets you make the same dumb mistake over and over, you don’t have to advance if you don’t want to, it might even turn you into a twisted, tortured, scared, and scarred soul. But I have enjoyed some of its courses tremendously, like being a husband, Dad, brother, friend, or hard work, helping, and enjoying good.

Somewhere along the path of my life I learned to love learning. My parents played a part in that, as did my aunt, a number of teachers and professors played that role as well, as did my wife and my children. And there have been so many whose knowledge and skills I admired, and often needed, who were willing to take the time and effort to teach me simply for the asking. I learned that even though I might not be the brightest or most skilled, I could learn. What a tremendous gift.

I almost missed learning what is most important, not because it was unavailable to me. There were two churches in my hometown, there were Bibles (God’s written word) in our home, we had “religion” as a subject in school, some of my relatives talked about it, but I wasn’t interested, I was distracted, I didn’t see much value in it. I did not understand the importance of knowing about God and Jesus Christ. Lots of people seem to live just fine without ever thinking about God, which is the exact opposite of what God thinks, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). How important is it to know where we have come from? Where we are going? Who we are accountable to? What we are responsible for? What we cannot afford to ignore? Who has ultimate power? And who values and loves us more than anyone? We are stuck in our sin and the dysfunctional cycles of human history when we are disconnected from God. We are spiritually and eternally lost outside a relationship with God. We are poorer without him. We lack any true and lasting foundation for life, hope, and justice without him. It is possible to amass vast learning and miss what is most important. It is through God’s written word, the Bible I learned:

“Start with GOD—the first step in learning is bowing down to GOD; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.” Proverbs 1:7 (MSG)

“All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him (Jesus Christ).” Colossians 2:3 (HCSB, parenthesis mine)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NASB)

To God be all glory; love you, Pastor Hans (a fellow learner)

 

 

 

 

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