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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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Our entire lives we are always going “though it.” You are going “through it” right now, just like you were going “through it” yesterday, and as sure as you will go “through it” tomorrow, whatever your “through it” might be. It is impossible to escape “going through it.”

Before one “through it” ends one or more “through its” have already started, like just when childhood ends puberty is already beginning. Many, many “though its” come our way without ever asking for permission to enter our lives, others are the results of our own choices, both wise and foolish.

Some “through its” we don’t mind, the comfortable ones, those without worries, where you laugh lot, feel good, and things are going great. We would like for those “through its” to last, to be the normal. We do so because we all too familiar with the other kind of “through its”, the kind we loathe, dread, hate, that keep us from what we really would love to go “through.” Those “through its” bend life with pain, grief, fear, suffering, burdens, worry, sins and evils of all kinds. Those “through its” love to show up far more often and stick around much longer than we want them to. In fact, they are good in making us wonder if are ever going to make it “through them,” and at times whether or not we are going to make it “through them” at all, like the Apostle Paul, We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it” 2 Corinthians 1:8 (NLT).

Since we can’t avoid “going through it,” it makes a big difference how we go through the highs and the lows, the joys and sorrows, the good and the bad, the mundane and the thrilling, the unbearable and the delights life has us “go through.” It makes a big difference if faith in the one true and living God marks our life or not. It makes a big difference whether or not we take our cues from Jesus whatever we “go through.” It makes a big difference we see no purpose behind that which we’d rather not “go through.”

Followers of Christ, Christians, are not exempt from the “go-throughs” of life. In fact being committed to Jesus will have you go through things you would not naturally chose to go through and top of the regular “go-throughs.” In all of that “going through,” the goal of the believer is never just to get “through it,” but live out the will of God to the glory of God and to the exaltation of Christ in all that God allows us, prompts, and calls us to “go through.” The Christian is never devoid of purpose in the “going through” of life, nor are God’s children ever alone in whatever we are going “through.”

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Romans 8:28-31 (NLT)

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26 (ESV)

There’s no getting away from “going through it,” but we do get to chose how and with whom we go through it.

 

To God be all glory. Love you, fellow “goer-througher, Pastor Hans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Can you picture two lovers without them having all kinds of hopes and dreams? I can’t. Hope thrives on love because real love is intrinsically hopeful, it wants to hope, it can’t help it. Love has the fragrance of hope, and in my case the scent of Wild Musk, at least when it comes to Susie. You spray a little Wild Musk into the air anywhere and anytime and immediately I will think of and look for Susie, it will instantly awaken my lover’s heart for her.

Have you ever driven by or walked through an orange or lemon orchard when it is in bloom? If you have, you know what overpowering fragrance is like. Even the few citrus trees in front of my house spread out a blanket of sweet perfume in the springtime – glorious. The weeds surrounding those trees don’t do that and so I treat them differently, I spray them with Round-Up (weed killer) while I fertilize the orange, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and mandarin trees. I have no hopes and dreams for the weeds other than to eradicate them, but I smile at just the thought of those trees blooming, I can picture the beauty of the bright colors of the fruit against the dark green leaves, and I am hoping that this year we will get to harvest more sweet fruit than ever, enough for us and to share.

Hope is fueled by love and love is never without hope, but they are also not without hate. Neither of them have any affection for evil, for that which is unloving, which is incompatible with love and hope, which erodes them, destroys them. It is that very reality which makes all of this so difficult, and often makes us unloving, destroyers of hope. After all, how do we decide what and who to legitimately love or hate? What should we hope for in terms of what should be and what should be eradicated?  “I (Jesu Christ) say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” Luke 6:27-28, 35-36 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

It is one of, if not the great challenge of lovers, dealing with that in ourselves and the other which isn’t so lovely, which is more weed than delicious fruit, which threatens and attacks the love we feel and the hopes and dreams we have, even the things that are legitimate to hate. For example, “Here are six things GOD hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family” Proverbs 6:16-19 (MSG).

I want to love, I want to hope, in fact I am certain God wants me and you to be committed to both. It is one of the reasons I try to stick as close to God as I can, I need his help, I need him to guide me and teach me on this. He is the greatest lover and hoper there is. I on the other hand am prone to be narrow in my love, depraved in my hopes, selective in my mercy. I easily love what I should hate and hate what I should love. I have even hurt those whom I profess to love, squelched legitimate hopes and dreams, acted more like a stink weed than an orange blossom. Oh to get love and hope right.

To God be all glory. Happy Valentines. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Grady in January – Sanctity of Human Life, Human Rights, and Justice

grady-in-january-2

Did you know that you are precious, deeply loved, and incredibly valuable? But not just you, every other person is as well. It is an indisputable fact, from conception to the grave every human being is precious to God, loved by God, and has intrinsic value and dignity given to him/her by God.

Our children were home for this Christmas, when they arrived it was hugs and kisses and whenever my arms are wrapped around them I still feel like I am holding the most precious and valuable God will ever put into my arms. That’s also the thing making the good-byes so hard. For a number of years now one of the Christmas gifts Susie, my wife, has given to each family member is a calendar with pictures from our yearly family gathering at the beach. This year’s January is graced with a picture of Grady, the youngest grandson. It is beyond cute, off the precious scale. It’s not hard to spot the incredible value of that little boy, it is easy to fall in love with him, one look and you know he is a gift from God.

But what if Grady had been born with a handicap, if he wouldn’t be the perfect looking little baby boy? What if his conception was at an altogether bad time? What if his arrival spelled a serious inconvenience, even hardship? What if his life expectancy was very short? Would it alter his value? Would he be less precious? Would he be less lovable? Would he be less deserving of dignity? Would his life somehow lack sanctity? Of course not.

We struggle with human rights, with the sanctity of human life, with justice. Somehow while rallying for the right to choose we rationalize trampling on the right to live. Somehow we campaign for lives that truly matter while endorsing the slaughter of the most innocent. We are good at claiming rights for our ourselves but are much more reluctant to grant them to others, especially when and where they impact us, our freedoms, our opportunities, our happiness, and our prosperity and posterity. We are good at framing our arguments, catering to the like-minded, and vilifying, devaluing, stupidifying, and marginalizing those who oppose us. We are for liberty and justice for all who are like us, but then of course there are exceptions. We are prone to forget that preciousness and sanctity of every human life, human rights, and justice for all from conception to the grave is not just an issue, or a cause, a political platform item, an argument to be fought over, a debate about morals and ethics; it is about real people, pre-born, newborn, children, tweens and teens, young people, adults, and old people; friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, citizens, illegals, criminals, and enemies; poor, rich educated, illiterate, healthy, and sick people of all colors; all of them created in the image of God. Their pictures, even if it is an ultrasound, and existence are as real as Grady in January.

It is up to you and me, not just to law and policy (as important as they are) to stand for justice, for the right to life, to treat each other with dignity and respect, to acknowledge the sanctity of every human life. It takes both a personal and collective commitment to make liberty and justice for all work in real life.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy (kindness) and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Human history a tale of conflict, strife, enmity, violence, and war. The Bible reflects this reality from the 3rd chapter of Genesis to the 20th chapter of Revelation. All the advancements of science, all the modern advancements of technology, all the study of history, all of the religious practices and rejections of the one true God by mankind have not changed that reality. In fact, we just have gotten better at it. At the battle of Cannae it took Hannibal and his army a day to slaughter 80,000 Romans, today we can level a city of millions in a flash. We can’t even imagine peace without strong armies standing guard and willing to fight.

The threats are not only external, nations and peoples pitted against each other, but also internal. Try to name a nation that is without strife, without conflict, without violence, without corruption, without various groups pitted against each other and willing to fight, clashing over ideologies, policies, liberties, rights, wealth, and … Just think about how much blood has been spilled between the East and West coasts of the United States from long before the Europeans settled here down to the present day.

Even the history of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, incarnate for 30 odd years is marked at its very beginning by Herod’s regional infanticide, serval attempt on his life, and eventually his crucifixion.  The words of Isaiah the prophet are as true today as when he first wrote them and when Jesus walked the earth, “The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace.  So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows” Isaiah 59:8-9 (NIV. Take a few minutes, get out a copy of the Bible or find one online, and read Isaiah 58-59 and let it sink in).

Both presently and ultimately it takes the intervention of the prince of peace, a Savior, the one who can change both the human heart and history to interrupt the cycles of depravity we cannot escape on our own, to regenerate what sin has killed, to redeem what has been lost, to reconcile us to God and his will, and to make us merciful as he is merciful (Luke 6:36).

Things are so much cleaner on paper, neater on a page filled with words. The hard part is translating what is right, what is good, what is just, and what pleases God into our lives, our private life, community life, political life, national life, our “neighbor’s” life, our enemy’s life. How do you that?

  • You have to care “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2 (NIV).Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” Philippians 2:4 (NIV).
  • You have dream of something better Jesus cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings …!” Luke 13:34 (NIV). ‘‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” Matthew 5:6 (NIV).  “(Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” Hebrews 11:10 (NIV).
  • You have to be willing to weep for others and over the brokenness you see –“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” Matthew 5:4&9 (NIV). “…, weep with those who weep” Romans 12:15 (NASB).
  • You have to orient yourself on God and his Son Jesus Christ –“(Father God) Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10 (NIV, parenthesis mine).  “…, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” 1 Corinthians 1:24 (NIV).  “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” James 3:17-18 (ESV).
  • You have engage and don’t quit – “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, …” Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV).  “Be doers of the word (of God, the Bible) …” James 1:22 (ESV, parenthesis mine). I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them” Hebrews 6:11-12 (MSG).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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