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This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)

 Joseph’s reaction and actions were determined by him being a “righteous man. What are you known for, identified as? A patient woman will react and act differently than a woman known for her temper. A generous man’s reactions and actions will not be same as the those of a miser or greedy man. A wise person will make different choices than a fool.

Joseph had a reputation of being a “righteous man.” It is one thing to be righteous in your own eyes (Luke 18:9) and quite another to be called righteous by God, your family, and the people in your town. You can’t get a “righteous’ man/woman reputation overnight, it requires acting righteously consistently over time. But you will never have that reputation if don’t start sometime, like today.

When we meet Joseph in the Word of God (the Bible) he already has this reputation of being “a righteous man.” Notice, it did not protect him from bad news and hurt. His fiancé told him she was pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father, which could only mean one thing, she betrayed him – ouch! How would you handle that? We know Joseph handled it as a “righteous man.” Which meant what?

  • Right Actions – Regardless of how he felt, he didn’t act in inappropriate, vindictive, ugly, kneejerk, foolish, sinful, and regrettable ways.
  • Right Heart – Her betrayal and his hurt didn’t snuff out his compassion, his dislike of public mudslinging, his love of mercy and grace.
  • Right Reaction – He pushed the pause button, he “considered,” his options, what godliness looked like in this situation, and most importantly Mary, the woman who betrayed him.

Joseph’s righteous disposition, his righteous habits, his righteous heart enabled him to handle the situation in a righteous way. Because he was and acted righteously, he was;

  • Able to hear God – I don’t think it too far fetched to imagine Joseph praying about what to do, bringing his hurt and confusion before God, asking him to help and direct him.
  • Able to believe God – Accepting that your fiancé’s pregnancy is a result of the Holy Spirit’s action is some serious faith.
  • Able to follow God – which meant he would change his plans, marry Mary instead of divorcing her, raise the child as his own, and put his own dreams and needs on hold.

It is a lot easier to be unrighteous than righteous, but it is a lot better to be righteous than unrighteous. Before Christmas we do a lot of wrapping, Joseph had been wrapping himself with righteousness, and what a difference it made.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Christmas and the Revelation and the Knowledge of God

The revelation of God, the knowledge of God comes to us in four ways: The Cosmos, Scripture, Experience, and Jesus Christ:

  • Creation, the cosmos, the physical world

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him,” the wise men asked Matthew 2:2 (NLT2, italics mine). The entire cosmos, from what is seen through the most advanced telescope to what is revealed under the most powerful microscope or super-collider, reveals God, “… ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” Romans 1:20 (NLT2). Every sunset picture you snapped, every night sky you looked up into, every facet of the natural sciences is an invitation to discover God, to search for this amazing Creator and life-giver until you find him.

  • Scripture, the Bible, is God’s written revelation.

King Herod called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, ‘Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?’
‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they said, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Matthew 2:4-6 (NLT2, italics mine). Scripture, the Bible, gives an understanding of God, his nature, his ways, and his plans we cannot get from observing our physical world alone. You can’t learn God’s name from reading DNA, nor can you learn from astronomy God’s workings in human history. Among many things, apart from scripture we wouldn’t know the depth of our depravity and sinfulness or its consequences, we wouldn’t know our true identity of being image-bearers of God himself, and we wouldn’t know of God’s great love for us and his provision to save us from our sins.

  • Faith Experience

“We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”…
“When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”
Matthew 2:2&10-11 (NLT2). There is a knowledge of God that only comes through faith, through trusting what he says, following his directions, doing what he tells us to do and be (as opposed to what not to do and be). The Eastern wise men didn’t travel for hundreds of miles to merely have someone tell them about Jesus, they wanted to see him, worship him, and honor him with their gifts. They experienced Jesus by putting together what the night sky declared, what scripture confirmed, and then responding to that revelation and knowledge through faith. They experienced the reality of the living God and Jesus Christ by believing what they saw and heard enough to saddle up their camels and beginning a whole new life of faith.

  • Jesus Christ

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows” Matthew 1:18 (NASB). Jesus Christ is more than a mere man, more than a prophet, more than the leader of one of the world’s great religions, he is God incarnate, God in human flesh, Immanuel – “God with us” (Matthew 1:23); it is what Christmas is all about. There is no greater and more personal revelation of God than Jesus, that is why you can’t claim to follow God and bypass Jesus Christ, they are inseparable, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” Colossians 2:9 (NLT2). No king has ever been announced and predicted like Jesus, that is because there is and never will be a king like him, he is Jesus Christ is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God … On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” Revelation 19:16 (NIV); “… at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW … and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:10-11 (NASB).

How have you responded to God’s revelation of himself? Be a wise man, a wise woman today!

Merry Christmas! Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness
. Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

  Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13 (ESV)

 You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
Luke 1:77-79 (NLT2)

 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
Psalm 145:8-9 (ESV)

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7 (ESV)

No one ever paid for God’s mercy because for one it is free, and for another, none of us could afford to pay for it, it’s completely out of our price range (Romans 11:33-36; 2 Corinthians 9:15). But truth be told, we often treat God’s mercy like a raggedy couch sitting by a curb with a scraggly “Free” sign on it, smiling as we drive past.

We like things that make us feel warm and fuzzy, especially about God. New, fresh, daily mercies and love – awesome (and it is). Mercy triumphing over judgment – thumbs up (yeah). Tender mercies cleaning up our sin mess – who doesn’t like that (I sure do). Gracious, merciful, super-patient, loving, good to me God – that’s definitely the kind of God I like. God blessing and giving to me – sign me up. Sometimes you get lucky and that couch with the free sign is actually in decent shape and super comfy, but do I really want to mess with it?

Nothing about God and his mercy is cheap, optional, or comfortable. He, in His mercy, makes life possible, extends patience, holds back his wrath and judgment, supplies and sustains not just our lives but the universe as a whole. Every sunrise we have witnessed, every sunset we photographed, every breath we have taken, every heartbeat counted, every kindness experienced, every opportunity that unfolded, every drop of love that fell on us traces back to God, to Christ, to his tender mercy and love.

Sitting on that unstained, beautiful, and free couch should make us grateful, cause us to be devoted worshippers, have us value this kind of and this magnitude of mercy as priceless, and inspire us to be merciful like our Heavenly Father (Luke 6:36). Did you notice the last scripture above? The only way to not be cut off from God’s mercy is to embrace it, be transformed by it, and become an extension of it (Matthew 18:21-34). If we do that, instead of merely settling for some fuzzy god-feeling and god-idea of our liking, we will be both be blessed and be a blessing, and/but it and we won’t be cheap (and that is a good thing).

To our merciful God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This morning I filled my coffee mug twice, my Musli bowl and stomach once, and all my morning hours even though got up way early. This past week we went camping with the family so we filled the truck bed with camping gear, the gas tank with diesel, the ice chests with food and drinks, several garbage bags (to the delight of the raccoons), our bellies with camping cuisine, our time with adventures, and our memories with joy.

Face it, in living life we do a lot of filling up, we have to, we get to, and it makes a difference what we fill up with.

  • It makes a difference what you put into our body, both in how well it functions and what it will crave.
  • It helps to fill up your bank account every now then, you’ll have less stress and you can pay your bills. But it also makes a difference whether your deposit was earned honestly or otherwise.
  • It is inevitable that your time will be filled up, but what you fill it with will determine if it is wasted or used wisely.
  • It makes a huge difference what you fill your mind with because it will establish how you think, what you will dwell on, and how you process life.
  • It is a vast distance between a heart filled with hate, bitterness, pessimism, grudges, and revenge, and a heart filled with love, kindness, optimism, goodwill, and forgiveness.

All of the above the Word of God/Bible addresses because it knows the realities of life, including the constant filling that we are engaged in. As followers of Christ, we are as engaged in these constant filling tasks and activities as much as anyone else, however, if we are going to be wise and godly when comes to this constant filling up in life the following are indispensable:

  • Constantly being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-20). Which means to continually yield control to him in all we do, wherever we are, and in all we plan.
  • Constantly filling our mind and thinking with the written Word of God, the Bible (Psalm 1). Which means taking time to read it, meditate on it, and then trust it enough to apply it to real life.
  • Constantly praying. Which means running everything by God, seeking his will, his wisdom, his guidance, his presence, his glory, and refusing to live without it (Matthew 6:9-16).
  • Constantly living in community with other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). Which means I recognize that only together with others can we be the body of Christ, and I need sisters and brothers in Christ pouring into me even as I pour into them (1 Corinthians 12-13, Ephesians 5:21)

Most every morning I get up and brew some coffee for Susie and me, filling my mug, usually at least twice. I didn’t always do that, but now I am pretty consistent with it. The same has been true of the four constant fill-ups I need as a follower of Jesus, a Christian. It took me a while, but now my life feels like an empty coffee cup in the morning without them.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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I am working on a car, again, the a/c (air-conditioning) is out. The car is drivable but on 104 (40 Celsius) or hotter days, Susie might want to make it to work without having to take another shower.

Our dishwasher rack is missing some prongs, but it is still washing dishes as well as it was when we bought it 25 years ago (Isn’t fun when God makes our things last?!).

Walking around our property I continually find vulture feathers, and sometimes when those magnificent flying creatures zoom low over our heads you can see where some of those feathers are missing, obviously, this does not rob them of their ability to fly. Of course, it would be a lot different if a vulture lost all its feathers at once, it would ground them for sure. The dishwasher and Susie’s car would be worthless if their water pumps gave out, or some other vital part failed.

It is no different with the Christian life, there are minor issues which might make things more uncomfortable, make things harder, or force you to make adjustments, and then there are major things that bring you to a screeching halt, keep you from soaring, and need immediate attention and repair. This is something the Corinthian Christians lost sight of; they were busy fixing the a/c when their engine had major problems. They argued and divided over minor things and forgot about the most important. As a result, they started looking and acting more and more ridiculous. Christians can employ the full Christian lingo and yet look like a vulture without feathers.

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that if they got things right their Faith, Hope, and Love would be in top mechanical condition, be the main feathers of their plumage, would leave their dishes sparkling. And of these three, he said, Love was the most indispensable. Without it the individual believer and the Christian community/church is broken, without substance, going nowhere, accomplishing nothing.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (fails)” 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (ESV, parenthesis NASB).

So, now that you have read the scripture above, I want to challenge you to do a little exercise with me. Think through this passage with the heading:

If I don’t have love (the kind God wants you to have and practice)

How does that affect your life, the life of your church, and the lives of those around you? Here are the first four things I wrote down:

  • Without out love, I sound wrong, verse 1.
  • Without love, I think wrong (“I am nothing”), verse 2.
  • Without love, I go wrong (“I gain nothing”), verse 3.
  • Without love, I am not as patient as I can and should be, verse 4.

And Now you finish it up:

  • Without love,  __________________________________________________
  • Without love,  __________________________________________________
  • Without love,  __________________________________________________
  • Keep going! ….

Now ask yourself, “Who is at the brunt end of my lack of love?” This might be an individual, several people, or entire group or groups of people.

Finally, what is the first right loving action you need to initiate towards him, her, and/or them? ______________________________________________________ (It might include having to apologize and ask for forgiveness.)

Maybe you’re not feeling it. Maybe you think someone else needs to make the first move. If you are waiting on those two to change you might be waiting a long, too long of a time to become the loving person Christ wants you to be. Start fixing the most important things today.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:1-2 (NIV)

Are you obdurate? Not even knowing the definition of the word it didn’t sound good to me.

Merriam-Webster.com defines it: 1. Stubbornly persistent in wrongdoing; hardened in feeling; 2. Resistant to persuasion or softening influences.

Google dictionary lists the following synonyms: stubborn, obstinate, unyielding, unbending, inflexible, intransigent, implacable, pig-headed, bull-headed, stiff-necked, headstrong, willful, unshakeable, unmalleable, intractable, unpersuadable, unrelenting, relentless, immovable, inexorable, uncompromising, hard, stony, iron-willed, adamant, firm, fixed, determined.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary (CWD) translates the Greek word skleruno as: To make hard or stiff, make obdurate, and adds that in the New Testament it is applied only figuratively to the heart and mind.

The writer of the NT letter to the Hebrews, quoting from Psalm 95:8-10 warns four times (Hebrews 3:8, 13, 15; 4:7; NASB, parenthesis mine):

“Do not harden your hearts.”

 “Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

“Today if you hear his (God’s) voice, do not harden your hearts.”   

“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

What both the Psalmist and writer of Hebrews refer to is an event (Exodus 17:1-7) of the generation of Israelites Moses led out of Egyptian slavery to go into the “Promised Land.” Except they never did make it into the land God had promised them but instead, because of the hardness of their hearts, wandered around in and died on Sinai peninsula for the next forty years. What we should learn from them is that we cannot come to God with a hard heart nor can we walk with God with a hard heart. A hard heart will keep us from God, from relying on his power and goodness, from entering into his promises and eternal rest. A hard heart will make us disobedient, resistant to God (Acts 19:9), and it will cause us to underestimate or be blind to the deception of sin (Hebrews 3:13). Our own hard heart becomes be rock we stumble over, a rock that will keep us from “the rock of our salvation.”

So, how obdurate is that heart of yours? What excuses have you come up with to let it remain hard? And, how well is that hard heart serving you in trusting and following God, in your relationships with those around you?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Mark 10:2-12 (ESV)

 

Sklerokardia, hardness of heart was the reason Moses acquiesced to write a soft divorce law into the legal code of ancient Israel. Of all the tough and strange laws Moses proposed this is the only objection mentioned and, according to Jesus, it was a straight argument against God’s design.

 

The disciples give us a clue as to what went on in their ancestors’ hearts when they responded to Jesus’ answer on divorce with, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” Matthew 19:10 (ESV). “Too hard,” they cried, “What if s/he turns out to a bum/ette? Or a nag? Or worse?” “That’s just not realistic!” Contrary to Moses, Jesus didn’t budge. Keep in mind that marriages in Jesus time were arranged marriages.

 

The difference between a hard and tender heart is amazing. One will keep track of every offense the other won’t even remember. One will be stuck on self while other serves. One will build bulwarks of defenses and excuses the other keeps trying. One will refuse to be merciful and tender the other refuses to give up on faith, hope, and love. One will cry, “Too hard!” the other will dare to move mountains. No wonder the wisdom book of the Bible  tells us to, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (and marriage)” Proverbs 4:23 (NLT2, parenthesis mine), and Jesus described “… from the (unguarded, hard) heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” Matthew 15:19 (NLT2, parenthesis mine).

“S/he won’t change!” “What’s the use?” “Believe me, I tried.” “I don’t love him/her anymore.” “There are no feelings left.” “I don’t know if we were ever really meant to be together.” Words spoken on the way out, words that originate from a hard heart. Words that say more about the person saying them than the one s/he is talking about, words that reveal much about their faith and their heart.

Isn’t it interesting that God is so inflexible about permitting us to walk out of a marriage? The most intimate of human relationships is meant to last, to reflect Christlikeness like no other relationship (Ephesians 5:22-33), to shape our hearts, our love to be like Christ’s.

Hard hearts don’t have to stay hard, although they surely want to be. A good place to start is to pray, “O God, please change my hard heart,” and follow that with the most loving action towards whom your heart has grown heart without expecting a particular response, and then do it again, and again, and …

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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