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The man being interviewed on NPR (National Public Radio) told about a social worker who made both impression and a difference in his life. What he remembered all these later was a simple smile, no words, no particular action, just a genuine, hopeful, affirming smile.

Let me ask you, “Are you capable of a smile?” I know I am.

A lady, a complete stranger, after reading about my younger brother’s suicide in the paper penned a note and sent it to my Mama bringing immense comfort to her.

Let me ask you, “Are you capable of writing a note?” I know I am.

A handful of young teenage boys decided to not spend all of their allowances and earnings on themselves and instead contribute a few dollars each month to fund a poor teenager on a different continent so he could have food an education.

Let me ask you, “Are you capable of spending a few less dollars on yourself each month?” I know I am.

“Are you capable of doing good? I know I am.

“Do you have some skill, some ability, resources, or experiences with which you could bless someone else? I know I do.

Could you make some time, change your plans in order to help someone, encourage someone, or comfort someone? I know I could.

There are few things we need to continually remind ourselves when it comes to doing good.

  • Doing good is not optional if I am serious about following God/Christ.

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 3 John 1:11 (HCSB)

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” 1 Peter 3:10-11 (NIV)

  • I am much more selective in doing good than Christ wants me to be.

“But I (Jesus) say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” Luke 6:27 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

  •  I can learn to do good like God wants me to.

You (God) are good and do good; teach me your statutes.
Psalm 119:68 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

  •  Doing good and procrastination don’t go together, nor do I have any good excuses not to do good.

Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. Hebrews 13:16 (HCSB)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV)

  • Doing good can be very tiring, exhausting even, but it is always right and Christlike to do good.

As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired (grow weary) of doing good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NLT2, parenthesis mine)

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We were hiking Half Dome (a 17-mile adventure) on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. Although we brought what seemed to be way to much water, and remember water is heavy, we were going through our supply way to fast. I was hoping our water would last us to the top and back down to a little spring that flowed into a basin about the size of a small sink, big enough to submerge our bottles and refill. When we got there others were already filling up and we had to wait our turn when a group of four come drugging through stepping right into the precious reservoir turning it into a muddy mess. Yes, no one was amused, and yes, everyone was ticked off and even more so when the rude spring stompers showed absolutely no remorse.

It doesn’t take much to pollute clean water, but it sure takes time and effort to clean it up. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is dealing with thousands of toxic waste sites in need of expensive cleanup. They got to be toxic waste sites because someone carelessly dumped enough toxic stuff to contaminate everything there.

Our words, our tongues, our communications have the potential to be like precious fresh water, refreshing the hearer, encouraging and blessing the recipients. But they also have the potential to be toxic, be destructive, contaminating hearts and minds, often for a very long time. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” Proverbs 18:8 (ESV). “With it (our tongue, mouth, communications) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?”James 3:9-11 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

So, how is it with your mouth, the words that come from your lips or your fingertips? Are they careless, mean, destructive, negative, hurtful, rude, vile, incendiary, gossipy, toxic, sarcastic, prideful, bitter, malicious, rash, thoughtless, manipulative, untruthful, misinformed, meddling, aggressive, attacking, impolite and lacking in what they could be and should be? And how often do you justify your toxic tongue by claiming justified anger, superior information, better understanding, the wrong of others, your own pain and woundedness? As loose as we might play with our words and lips, as much as we might justify ourselves, God is crystal clear when it comes to our mouths, the way we should use our words. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” Matthew 12:36 (NIV).

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be “ James 3:10 (NIV).

 “Reckless (rash, cutting) words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” Proverbs 12:18 (NIV, parenthesis mine).

“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy (abusive, obscene) language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” Colossians 3:8-9 (NIV, parenthesis mine).

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”Ephesians 4:29 (NIV).

How do we do it? Clean up our words? Detoxify all communications, turn our speaking lips and typing fingertips and even our silences into a source of blessing?

  1. Stop the toxic flow. The stream of our words will stay muddy and polluted until we do. However, in order to turn it off we will have to travel upstream to our hearts and minds, all the way to where our words a generated and address our own pollution there. But while we make this journey we can stop the words before they come out. It is a wise thing to do. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” Proverbs 10:19 (NIV).
  2. Filter what you let out. Careless words are also unfiltered words. Of course there are toxic words that run through a filter of a different kind. Before you speak, before you type, before you communicate, ask yourself, “Does this pass the love test, the kindness test, the truth test, the benefitting the hearer test, the pleasing God test?” “Is what is about to come out clean, edifying, and able to bless?” “A word spoken at the right time is like gold apples on a silver tray” Proverbs 25:11 (HCSB).
  3. Drink pure water, listen to clean words. Words don’t just go out they also go in. Who do you give permission to plant their words into your hearing, into your mind and heart? Who gets to put their morsels (Proverbs 18:8) into your ears? It will have an effect on your filter (see above). It is difficult to clean up your words while allowing others to dump their toxic waste. “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals (and our words)” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (NASB).

If this pastor’s note has hit a nerve with you pray the following with me and then start implementing the three steps above, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” Psalm 19:14 (NASB)

             To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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Fine Lines

When I expected good, then evil came; When I waited for light, then darkness came. Job 30:26 (NASB)

Isn’t calamity reserved for the wicked? Isn’t disaster supposed to strike those who do wrong? Job 31:3 (MSG)

We needed rain, which is nothing abnormal here in dry Don Pedro. So, the forecast of a wet week was a blessing, the snow piling up in the high country a huge relief for what had been an abysmal rainy season ushering us straight into another drought. The rains of the week before and of Tuesday and Wednesday were a delight to farmers, ranchers, residents, and water managers. Then came Thursday.

After a night of normal rain playing its rhythmic tune on our bedroom window the morning and early afternoon turned into a deluge, lighting up the radar map in red and purple. Water was everywhere, culverts turned into water-cannons, ditches filled and ran over everywhere, small ponds formed wherever there was a drain, creeks swelled into torrents, small bridges collapsed, roads gave way, low lying houses became victims, and blessing quickly turned into a catastrophe.

We live nearer to catastrophe than we think. Drought and deluge separated by just a few days. Not enough, enough, and too much separated by spaces smaller than the stones of Machu Picchu. Rejoicing, panic, and despair within arms lengths. Peace, unrest, and war separated by just a few decisions. Prosperity, barely paying the bills, and poverty living next to each other on the same street. Political stability, chaos, and tyranny determined by a handful. Health, sickness, and death mere microscopic distances apart.

It is frightening to have so little control, to be so exposed to the power of nature, so vulnerable to the unseen, so subject to the unplanned, so depended on good decisions of others, so unable to guard against it all. It also reveals how dependent we are on grace and mercy of God, without whom nature, mankind’s depravity, and our mortality would ultimately harm and destroy us all.

It is astounding how quickly clouds unleashed can humble us, isn’t it? Our hubris, most of the time, is blind to the fine lines, to our frailty, our smallness, our need for God to pour out grace and mercy even more than we need for the sun to rise. Our hubris is also quick to indict God, to drag him into court for not doing more, for not holding everything and everyone in check from crossing the lines that divide blessing from disaster, the just from the unjust, good from evil, life from death. But he is not obligated, he does he deserve our scorn in distress any more than our ignoring him and ungratefulness when all is well. I suppose those are fine lines too, the line between godlessness, idolatry, and the fear and worship of God.

We won’t forget the deluge of March 22, 2018, especially those who suffered loss and harm, but we will not long live out of an awareness of the fine lines and how dependent we are on the goodness, mercy, and grace of God, not just now, but for all of life and eternity; but we should.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. This is also a great opportunity for each one of us to help his/her neighbor, and be a tangible extension of the love, goodness, and grace of God.

 

 

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Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Galatians 6:4 (MSG)

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—
James 4:3a (NLT)

God hears and answers every prayer, but God does not grant every request. The student who fervently prays for God’s help to pass the upcoming major test yet spend the time s/he could have been studying playing video games, or binge-watching a favorite show, or simply farting around is probably best advised to spend whatever time is left studying instead of praying. The person foolishly wasting money and then pleading with God for a financial bailout might be better off enrolling in a money management course to change his/her habits than asking God to underwrite bad habits. The liar, the drama queen, the agitator, the hater, the cruel, the over-sensitive, the selfish or self-centered bugger praying for others to change and treat them nicer stands little chance for God granting them their request of exempting them from the consequences of their actions; what do you think?

There are things God will not support. I challenge you to take a moment and make a list of ten things you are pretty sure of that God will not support them. Ready?

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Now use that list like a mirror, examine yourself against it, think about what you should do and how you should pray in light of your list.

I know for myself I don’t want God to shake his head and sigh because of the immaturity, the emptiness, the audacity, the twistedness, or the lack of Christlikeness of my prayers.  “… get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.  For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.  But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:21-25 (NLT)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

(Regardless of how much I pray, God, among other things, does not support: 1. Laziness, 2. Hatred, mismanaged anger, bitterness, 3. Revenge, 4. Disobedience, 5. Sin and wickedness, 6. Immorality, 7. Greed of all kinds, 8. Cruelty, 9. Injustice, 10. Selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-promotion, 11. Foolishness, 12. Dishonesty, 13. Unforgiveness, 14. Pride, hubris, arrogance, 15. Praising yourself, 16 Gloating over the fall of enemies, 17. Lawlessness, 18. Lack of love, mercy, grace, and kindness, 19. Idolatry of any kind, 20. Neglecting to do good and help when and wherever we can, 21. Dishonoring Jesus Christ, 22. Misusing his name, 22. Empty spirituality, 23. Foolishness of all kinds, 24. Transgressing his commandments, ways, and principles, 25. Apathy, ….)

 

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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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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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