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By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. Hebrews 11:23 (ESV)

They couldn’t d it because they were normal. It didn’t matter that they had no legal standing, they were part of a minority living in constant fear, and that chances of them being found out were sky high. They knew the law, they knew they were putting their other children and family at risk, but they also knew what was clearly right and obviously wrong. So Moses’ parents, Amram and Jochebed, did not throw their newborn infant son into the Nile but instead hid him, cared for him, fed and cleaned him, and most importantly loved him. Loving a baby, especially yours is normal, parents making sacrifices for their children is normal; it not only feels right but is right.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry (compassion) for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Exodus 2:5-6 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

Ironically, the daughter of the Pharaoh who issued the infanticide law regarding Hebrew males couldn’t do it either. She stumbled upon the basket Moses’ parents had made for him when it became impossible to hide him any longer. A soon as Pharaoh’s daughter realized that this was a Hebrew baby she could have instructed one of her servants to take little Moses out of his basket and toss him into the current of the river. But she didn’t because it is normal to comfort and love on a crying baby.

It is normal for parents to love their children and it is equally normal for children to love their parents, we are capable of both. Yet, every day we see children thrown into the “Nile.” Few topics carry with it as much brokenness, neglect, manipulation, disappointment, twistedness and outright evil than parent-child relationships. But can you think of a better illustration of the difference love makes than a loving home and family?

No one knows more and has more experience as to love in the parent/child relationship than God. The love Jesus shows to you and me and even his enemies is no accident, he said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” John 15:9 (NIV).

For all the things God will hold us accountable what we do with our capacity to love might be at the very top, and our very first relationship in life is meant to get us started on love, grow and become strong in love. In a real relationship with God through Christ it is his love that seeks to shape us to become ever better, to be men and women, Moms and Dads, sons and daughters, neighbors and friends who continue to grow in holiness and love, who are known for love that is fearless, committed, strong, selfless, and real. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” Proverbs 3:12 (NLT).

I believe the love, faith, and courage of Jochebed and Amram impacted Moses for the rest of his life in the most positive way. What he experienced at home had an impact on his own character, his dedication to God, his family, his people, his desire to form a society that is just, caring, and God-honoring.

It is never too late to start down the road of being a loving parent, of being a loving child. It might mean having to learn a lot, asking for much forgiveness, granting much forgiveness, and making profound changes. But I am convinced that God will help you and me to unleash our capacity to love.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“A man/woman must examine him/herself” 1 Corinthians 11:28.

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).

Do you know someone who is good at dishing it out but is terrible at receiving it? Who is great at making fun of others but without humor and super sensitive when s/he is made fun of? Are you quick to criticize others but overly sensitive when you are put under the lens? Well, this pastor’s note meant to turn the spotlight right on you; not by me, however, but by your very own self.

In both his letters to the Corinthian believers/church the Apostle Paul told them to take a close look, to examine, to test, to judge themselves and the genuineness of their faith.

  • The first time was in regard to the observance of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. They had made it something that it was not, more of church potluck than a remembrance of Jesus’ death. And some were acting snobbish on top of that, lavishly indulging themselves with a select few while others went hungry. Paul reminded them that the Lord’s Supper has nothing to do with filling your stomach, but that is everything to do with a serious and genuine relationship with Christ. You don’t prepare for Communion in the kitchen but rather by examining yourself, checking on how it is between you and Christ, between you and the other members of Christ’s body, between you and your neighbor. You have to look into your own heart, at your recent behavior and decisions, your commitments, your spiritual flavor (saltiness – Matthew 5:13), your spiritual temperature (Revelation 3:15-22). The goal of this kind of self-examination is to set right whatever isn’t because Christ who died for us, the love he has shown, the mercy and grace he poured out deserves nothing less.

Obviously a good number of the Corinthian Christians were not in the habit of examining themselves like that, having a party with those they                  liked was much more important them. God didn’t let them slide; to him the death of his Son Jesus Christ and Christ-honoring behavior are very            serious matters and he promptly and severely disciplined a number of them including with sickness and even death. Wow! That kind of                            seriousness might empty a church – literally.

  • The second time Paul told the Corinthian Christians to examine, to test themselves was in regard to the genuineness of their faith; notice, not the sincerity of their faith but the genuineness, because you can sincerely believe something and yet be dead wrong, and what and who you believe will direct your life.

The issue here was that there have always been those who want to use God for their own ends, change the heart of the Gospel, highjack the                       church, and use scripture as means to support their own preferences, desires, and agendas. In order for them to be successful they have to                       discredit genuine leaders and examples of the faith, in this case Paul, who founded the Corinthian church, and apostolic doctrine.

It seems these usurpers were having a measure of success and were leading people astray. Interestingly Paul not only defends his apostleship and          the genuineness of his own faith, but he also asks the Corinthians (whom loves and deeply cares about) to examine their own faith. In a sense he            asked them to do a faith quality control. The goal of this kind of self-examination is about maintaining a high standard, living and discerning out            of our core beliefs, and continuing in and excelling with what is right and good.

The kind of continuing self-examination the Apostle Paul encourages every believer in Christ to practice has real benefits:

  1. It keeps our relationship with Jesus on track and real.
  2. It helps us to relate to in harmony and unity with other believers and treat all people with Christlikeness.
  3. It enables us to grow spiritually and as a person by being brutally honest with ourselves and dealing with stuff we need to deal with.
  4. It helps us to maintain our core beliefs (the faith) in the middle of the pressures of life, spiritual attacks, evil, and constant changes.

Ready to turn that spotlight on yourself?

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

We have a way of changing the story, not just the Christmas story, but stories in general. This too, is what marks sinners. It happens every day, in editorial meetings, communications offices, courtrooms, lunch conversations, principals’ offices, telephone calls, press releases, leaks, history books and documentaries, and … The focus gets changed, facts are omitted, small details are exaggerated, emphases are shifted, fingers get pointed, personal and political agendas take hold and rearrange.

The birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, the redemptive plan of God centered in his Son Jesus Christ is a case in point. What has happened to Mary, the young woman whom God offered to become the mother of the Christ. We actually know precious little about her. How do you picture her? For the most part her story has been taken into three directions: 1. She is a demur young woman who is all but passive, holding up the baby Jesus to visitors and artist/photographers with a peaceful smile on her face. 2. She has been elevated to the status of semi-goddess. 3. She has been reduced to a fictional character in an utterly absurd religious story. All of these have changed the story.

Mary’s name means “obstinate, rebellious.” Her Old Testament name sake is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was anything but a demur soul, but rather outspoken, strong-willed, and quick-witted. God clearly saw Mary for more than breeding stock with the right blood line, he, above anyone else, knew that this young woman knew how to think, had inner strength, had a faith willing to take risks, was honest, and didn’t need the limelight. God invited her into his story and she volunteered herself, her body, and her life for life. And she didn’t change the story, her story – others did. She let the story be about Jesus, her life be about Jesus.

So, this Christmas, what have you done with the story, the truth of Jesus? How much have you changed it? Have you dismissed it? Have you replaced it with your own narrative? Have you reduced it to sentimental movie tradition, to a leggy lamp and a Red Rider BB gun? Has it become about your family instead of God’s family?

“Jesus Christ came into our world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), that is the unchanged story of Christmas. You and I can respond to it like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, …” (Luke 1:38), and from then on let our lives be about Jesus Christ, or we can to decide to do what sinners do, change the story, but only one can actually save you.

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

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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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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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Go ahead, click on the picture icon on your built in computer, called your mind. Then click on the folder “Favorite People.” I am willing to bet that the faces in this file bring a smile to your face, that they cause your heart to feel good, that you are grateful these people are part of life, are stuck in your memory.

You probably have different reasons for filing these people in this file. Maybe you put them there because they made you laugh a lot, or maybe because they helped you, or because they influenced you in a positive way. Maybe they stuck with you when you were struggling, messed up, or were an outright jerk. Maybe it was their generosity, their kindness, or their goodness. Maybe it was their quirkiness, their spunk, their imagination, their courage, or their humility that made you decide to stick them in your “Favorite People” folder. Maybe you didn’t even make a conscious choice to stick them there and they just somehow invaded, somehow just showed up in this most precious file. But no matter how or why they got there you are grateful that they are there.

Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers,” is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (1:2 MSG). That lets you know where Paul filed these folks in his heart and mind, doesn’t it, because there are two groups of people we think about and pray about more than anyone else: 1. Those dearest to us, and 2. Those we dread and struggle with the most. Clearly the Apostle counted the Thessalonians in the first group and lucky for us he tells us how they ended up in his “Favorite” folder. He highlighted:

  • Their “work of faith” (1:3), their faith in action, that they didn’t just sit around talking spiritual but acted like Jesus would act. People like that are real.
  • Their “labor of love” (1:3), which implies both the right actions and the right motivation. People like that are like a breath of fresh air.
  • Their “endurance inspired by hope” (1:3 NIV), which lets us know that they weren’t quitters, they knew how to grind it out and stay positive and hopeful at the same time. People like that are inspiring.
  • Their willingness to change and grow (1:6 & 9), they didn’t adapt God to their wants, customs, values, and comfort level but let God shape them through the Holy Spirit, the message of God’s word, and the example of Paul. People like that are rare.
  • Their willingness to take on responsibility to be both godly/Christlike examples and to be messengers of the Gospel of Christ (1:7-8). They laid things on the line in word and deed. People like that are encouraging.

It’s no wonder why they ended up being among Paul’s “Favorites.”

What remains for you and me is to figure out why the Holy Spirit/God had Paul record this, why this was preserved for us to read? May you and I become “Favorites,” reasons for joyful remembrance, the content of thankful prayers, and inspirations to follow Jesus for all the right reasons.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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