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Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”                                                                                            Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:38-42 (ESV)

Have you ever given thanks to God for not answering your prayer, for ignoring your request, for making you wait?

Jesus didn’t come when they wanted him to, instead he waited, delayed. He ignored their implied request to heal Lazarus, one of his best friends, he let him suffer and die. Nor did Jesus book a redeye flight to be there as soon as possible for Lazarus’ distraught and grieving sisters. It took him four whole days to show up, which meant he missed even the funeral.

When Jesus finally got there Lazarus’ two sisters said aloud what everyone else thought, “If you would have been there our brother would not have died” Luke 1:22&32). Ouch, no gratitude here, only accusation, confusion, and silently screaming “Why?” The Son of God who could have intervened didn’t; the Omnipotent who can, didn’t; what he did for others he didn’t do for his friends. Why in the world would he refuse to do what was obviously needed, use his power to heal, and instead responded with inactivity that said, “No?”

“Open the tomb! You’ve got to be kidding! Martha is right, there will be a stench. In fact, this whole situation stinks. He could have and should have done something, but he didn’t. And now he stands there and is thanking God! – this guy is unbelievable.”

Out of all the times in life when we are told, “No,” being told, “No,” by God is the most confusing, especially when our requests feel legitimate,  unselfish,  about good outcomes, and are out of deep desperation. We expect God to at least care as much as we do.

What if Jesus would have acquiesced, had come in a hurry, had healed Lazarus, had kept him out of the grave, had said, “Yes,” to their requests and did things the way they had wanted him to. They would have known him less. They would have been condemned to a life of desperate calls for Jesus (God) to hurry, to fix, to bail out. They would have been stuck with an “Ambulance Jesus.” They would have continued in the same old fears. They would have been deprived of a glimpse of who he really is, “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26).

It is a great scene, isn’t it, when Jesus tells four-days-dead-and-decomposing Lazarus to “Come forth!” and then instructs them to take the burial clothes off him (John 11:44-45). Can you imagine the amazement, the joy, the awe? It would not have happened without Jesus waiving their initial request, without Jesus willing Lazarus to die, without Jesus waiting for days before showing up.

We think the best thing is when God answers our prayers the way we think is best, but it infinitely better when God responds to our petitions and requests, no matter how desperately we feel, the way he thinks is best, including him saying, “No, child.” How thankful I am that he not only knows what is best but also does what is best, undaunted by our expectations, frustration, desperation, pain, and confusion.

To God be all glory. 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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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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“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27 (NLT)

They were blocking the road, five tom turkeys strutting their stuff with all their might, oblivious to the world around them. My very noisy Dodge diesel pickup had absolutely no effect on them. They were dragging their wings, spreading their tail feathers, inflating their necks, and executed fancy dance patterns. I looked around to see what all the fuss was about, and there in the dry weeds on the side of the road was the scraggliest turkey hen I had ever seen. Obviously those five males were bunch of frustrated jakes (young males) who had lost out on the whole spring mating thing but had spotted themselves a lonely jenny, which compelled them to pull out all of the stops.

I don’t know if any of them inspired the homely hen enough to win the prize because after about five minutes they decided to move off the road and danced their way into the bushes. However, it seems to me those five boys were clearly worried that they were going to be this year’s mating season losers. And since gobblers are not native to Palestine Jesus must not have been talking about turkeys.

Jesus, however, did specifically talk about ravens and sparrows (Matthew 10:29). We only have the occasional raven around our place, but we do have a resident pack of their cousins, crows. They really are gang, they love to harass other birds, fly around with their souped-up sound systems cranked up, doing all kinds of aerial acrobatics, looking for mischief, and when they have found it they fly off laughing away. They, unlike those strutting jakes, have carefreeness stamped all over them. “Turning to his disciples, Jesus said, ‘That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?’ … ‘Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need’” Luke 12:22-26, 31 (NLT).

Freedom from worry, freedom from fear are some of the great benefits that come with trusting God, walking with Jesus, concerning ourselves with the kingdom of God – the eternally valuable and important instead of mere survival. So, how are you doing with fear and worry? Are you more likely to resemble a desperate tom turkey afraid of losing out on life, franticly strutting your stuff, oblivious to the world around you, unaware of the goodness of God, the power of God, and the calling of God to higher things?

Those carefree crows look rather plain; they can’t compete with the dazzling plumage of a dressed up tom turkey. But watch them fly, hear them laugh, see the sparkle in their eyes. The more we are about stuff and strutting the less carefree we will be, the more we will be tied to the fleeting, the less we live by faith, and we will we spend more time on the ground worrying than in the air worshipping.

Consider the birds.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. If you have children, go to our church’s website and sign them up for VBS (Vacation Bible School) and/or camp.

 

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Give thanks in everything (in all circumstances), for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (HCSB, parenthesis mine)

Don’t worry (be anxious) about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:6-8 (HCSB, parentheses, mine)

Some things are easy to be glad about, be grateful for. For instance:

  • I am grateful for, and indebted to, American Veterans, who liberated Germany from Hitler and his version of hell on earth, who safeguarded West Germany from the scourge of communism, who have valued and stood for liberty with more than just words.
  • I got to vote because I am privileged to live in a democratic country, where religious liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and democratic principles have struggled and survived for over 200 years.
  • Every time I open our refrigerator I am greeted by an abundance many can only dream about.
  • This morning like most every morning I sat down and opened my Bible, my very own copy of God’s written revelation, the living word of God that is able to instruct me, grow me, impart truth, wisdom, strength, and discernment to me.
  • I woke up, and there next to me was this beautiful face, my gift from God, my love, my wife, my best friend and companion.

When it comes to things that are easy to be grateful for I could on for pages and I suspect you could to. But the “give thanks in everything,” the being worried, being anxious, being so desperate you reaching and crying out to God and do it “with thanksgiving” is quite another thing. How difficult is it to be grateful:

  • When your political candidate and party lost the election.
  • When you are in constant pain.
  • When you lost your job.
  • When your children (regardless of their age) or parents make lousy decisions.
  • When tragedy strikes.
  • When you or someone you love has an addiction.
  • When you are mourning and grieving.
  • When you are broke and can’t make ends meet.
  • When you are being taken advantage of.
  • When you are treated unfairly, unjustly.
  • When the work-stress is overwhelming.

I am sure we could continue for pages in that vein as well.

Is it as puzzling to you as it is to me that “giving thanks in everything” is “God’s will for you and me? That God expects me/us to learn to give thanks in the midst of worry and stress? That gratefulness and thanksgiving is meant to be a way of life, of dealing with life, of staying anchored in life, to the point that not practicing it puts us squarely outside of God’s will?

The good news is that regardless of our temperament, personality, background, wounds, and fears, this can be learned. Everyone of us can learn to “give thanks in everything,” to live a lifestyle of gratefulness, to not abandon thanksgivings in worry and stress, to stay focused on the right things in the midst of the grind of life. The amazing thing is that when we do so we end up being better people, with a peace we can’t explain, looking and sounding more like Jesus, which is always a really, really good thing.

To God be all glory. Love You, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” 2 Timothy 1:12 (ESV)

It all looked like a big fat failure. After years of giving his all, so very little to show for, friends failing him, and people he had high hopes for checking out, quitting. The legal system offering little hope, the outcome all but rigged. The mighty Apostle Paul, whose name was known not only around the world but even among demons (Acts 19:15), reduced to lowly prisoner with a number, reduced to insignificance, rotting away in a Roman prison cell expecting to be executed in the near future.

What had become of him? What had become of his cause? What would remain? What good had he done? What now? All of the marvelous, miraculous, extraordinary, unbelievable things Paul had experienced and done what did it accomplish? On one hand what Paul writing from his prison cell to his spiritual son, Timothy, is rather depressing. There is loneliness, disappointment, even a sense of tiredness and resignation, “I fought the good fight,” and mundane worries about being cold in the upcoming winter. On the other hand there is a remarkable amount of thinking about and preparing for the future for both himself and Timothy, there is no quit, no doubt, no regret as to his devotion to Christ and his kingdom.

It is a tremendous statement, “I am not ashamed,” no hanging of the head, no avoiding someone’s look, no dreading someone’s evaluation of his life and circumstances. So why isn’t he ashamed? Why is he keeping his head high? Would you if you were in his shoes?

Paul doesn’t make the mistake people made in his day and still do so today, maybe even moreso. He doesn’t confuse “what” with “whom”. He doesn’t say, “I know what I believed,” although Paul certainly knew what he believed. No, he says, “I know whom I believed.” In life it makes a big difference what you believe in but it makes an even bigger difference who you believe in.

It is inevitable, all of us will be reduced, and not just when we are old and our bodies and faculties are failing. But the greatest reducer and humiliator is still death. Death has sting – sin 1 Corinthians 15:55-56). Sin elevates the “what” and confuses the importance of the “who.” There is just one whom death cannot reduce and sin has no power over, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul reminds you and me that believing in him and entrusting our entire life, our hope, and our confidence to him is the only way to not lose it all.

I challenge you to get out a Bible, or access a copy online, find 2 Timothy and read all four chapters contemplating where you are with the “whom” and the “what”.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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