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Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

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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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

It is tough to be merciful with a hard heart and it is impossible to be godly and Christlike with a hard heart.

It is a lot easier to accuse everyone else of wrong, of hardness of heart than to address our own heart condition.

At the Sabbath (church) service they were hoping Jesus would do something they could nail him on (sad). You can be sure your heart is hard when you’re waiting for people to mess up. What would he do for the man with the crippled hand? Would he break the man-made Sabbath interpretations and regulations? If he did, they were ready to pounce, to accuse, to raise a stink – something hard hearts love to do.

Jesus didn’t disappoint, in fact, he called the disabled man up front, had him stretch out his crippled hand (the thing he was hiding) for all to see, and healed him. However, before doing so he asked a question, “Is it lawful on Sabbath to do good or to harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). That’s an easy question with an easy answer, but they didn’t want to answer, hard hearts hate to be exposed to be cornered, to answer questions that prove them wrong.

Their hardness of heart made Jesus angry and it grieved him. They were willing to let a man stay crippled for the sake of their man-made rules, their authority to enforce them, and their way of life. You know your heart is hard when there is an opportunity to do good and show compassion and you bypass it not because God’s law is hindering you, but because you love your own way, rules, opinions, and politics more.

Jesus healed the crippled man. The Synagogue should’ve exploded with cheers and praise, but hard hearts have a hard time cheering for those who expose them, even when they do incredible good. Instead, there is an eerie silence in the synagogue following the healing. I have to believe there were some who wanted to cheer and clap, but, to their shame, they let themselves be held in check by the hard hearts of their leaders. They were waiting to see what their leaders, their group would do and then, regrettably, fell in line with the silence when “Hallelujahs” were in order. Silence produced by hardness of heart is never good.

Rather than change those religious hard hearts “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” Mark 3:6 (NIV). Hard hearts find each and encourage each other (as do tender hearts). Can you see Jesus at any border hiding behind man-made rules? Would Christ applaud Captain Carola Rackete who steered Sea-Watch 3 filled with refugees into an Italian harbor although she was ordered not to and was promptly arrested? Who have you been criticizing, deploring, so much so that you can longer see any good they do? Are you staying silent both in the face of wrong and good because that is not what your group, your party, opposes and does not cheer? Towards whom do you have a hard heart?

Porosis is the Greek word used here by Mark. They had porosis of the heart, “moral ossification” (Robertson), the hardening of muscle tissue, meaning that which was meant to be soft became hard. The other word used in the New Testament for hardness of heart is sklerokardia. Maybe you have heard of osteoporosis – bones becoming brittle or arteriosclerosis – hardening/thickening of the arteries. You can go to the doctor for these conditions, although they are not necessarily easy to treat. Who do you go to with hardness of heart? God. You and I can trust him when he says, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT2).

Don’t live another week with hardness of heart.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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“On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote)

Coming back from a week of camping we drove past the heliport on the Lake Don Pedro dam. The Medi-Flight chopper, ambulance, and fire truck were all there. I found out later they were airlifting out a young person in dire condition. I am sure that for her family the day turned out nothing like they thought it would.

I made three visits (pastoral calls) on Tuesday. The first, to see a man who lost his wife of many years. The second, to see a lady who is dying and her husband who is taking care of her. The third, to see a man who’d just come back from a stint in the hospital. Things have not turned out like they hoped they would. All their plans and hopes have been interrupted, changed, permanently, and uninvited.

We know life is fragile, that it can turn on a dime, be completely altered in a split second, tear our hearts out, pay no attention to our plans, demolish our dreams, assign us paths we do not want to travel, and dish us up with more sorrow grief than we can bear. We long for permanence, for unchanging ground, but our reality is we live on the ever-shifting sand of a beach constantly moving in the daily ebb and flow, subject to sunshine and rain, gentle breezes and hurricane winds.

Susie and I pay for health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, life insurance (Which is really death insurance since it doesn’t kick in unless you die. But I suppose calling it that is not good for marketing), and maybe soon long-term care insurance. The hope is that we will not have to file claims, but the reality is that except for the life insurance we have had to use them all and were glad and grateful that we were insured because otherwise, things would have been even worse, and we would be flat broke. But none of these insurance policies have protected us from tragedy, from chaos, having to change our plans, from having to adapt and cope.

Wise women and men work hard at finding and embracing the truths, laws, principles, and ways that create the most stability, promote peace, and bring blessing. They also live without any illusions of being exempt from mortality and the unpredictability of life. And, they embrace God, who is permanent – eternal, unchanging – immutable, and perfect – holy. He alone can make eternal guarantees and sure promises. Only he can change the impermanent and mortal into the everlasting. No one else can save us from our human dilemmas, satisfy our thirst for permanence, and anchor our souls now and forever. Hear and respond to the words of Jesus, the Son of God, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30):

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (NLT2)

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth… And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT2)

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. John 11:25-26 (NLT2)           

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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“Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will,” (Mark 14:36).

What I think is in my best interest might not be in your best interest, and what you think is in your best interest might not be in everybody else’s best interest. Today will not be much different from yesterday in the fact that the world over people will clash, siblings will have it out, husbands and wives will disagree, political factions will dispute, countries will be in turmoil internally and at war with each other.

We need very little training in exerting our wills, in claiming the high ground, in the kind of pride that asserts to know what is best. It is the beast within us trying to survive and thrive and have it easy that worships at the altar of self, that ignores morality, that breathes hubris. The mountain lion gives no thought whether it hunts deer to extinction. But we are not mere beasts, we are living souls created in God’s own image, capable of insight, foresight, moral contemplation, and acting out of more than self-interest and mere survival, of behaving honorably and godly. We are also fallen images of God, sinful souls from the moment we were conceived, under the reality of death. In the reality of death, the fear of losing out and survival become paramount, the interests of others are secondary, morality becomes a hindrance, the elevation of self is justified. In the end, however, we consume ourselves, we kill the tree that gives us life like mistletoe does to its host.

The greatest battles we fight are the ones were our wills clash with the interests of others, were our wills clash with the will of him who alone knows what is truly best for all, God. Our greatest battles are those where we must choose between acting like images of God or mere beasts, between trusting God’s will over our own.

Can we trust God’s will? Even if it includes losing out, suffering, death? And, hasn’t that kind of reasoning been used to lure people into evil religious radicalism and senseless martyrdom? The answer is, “Yes!” In our sinfulness and self-centeredness, we know how to pervert the good and right, to hijack the noble, to trample the godly. But it is also true that it was Jesus, the sinless one, who had not robed, harmed, abused, cheated, discarded, or lied to anyone, who prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours, Father (God),” when he had to decide between escaping suffering and death and what was in the best interest of all of mankind according to God’s omniscience, purposes, and will. When he had to decide between his fears and the resurrection power of God.

It was a struggle; clashes of wills usually are. Three times, in deepest turmoil of soul, Jesus wrestled the temptation to run, to settle for what would spare him. And so much hung in the balance. We too will struggle, we will have to sort it out, and much hangs in the balance.

 “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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“Follow me!” Jesus told Peter, Andrew, John, James, Levi, Matthew, … right down to you and me.  Did you notice? They never asked, “Where do we follow you to?” “How long do we follow you?” And, Jesus didn’t say, because the answers to these questions are implied, “Follow me, everywhere I go,” “Follow me, all the way into eternity.” That is a much further and a lot longer than we can imagine, but there is only one way to get there – following Jesus one day at a time, right down to our last day. Following Jesus is about following him today with the determination that, when we finally fall asleep tonight, we will get up and follow him tomorrow. Following Jesus daily requires at least three things:

  1. Letting go

“If you wish to be complete, … (let go of everything) and come, follow Me” Matthew 19:21 (NASB, parenthesis mine). It is foolishness to follow anyone or anything you can’t trust, and when it comes to eternity God/Christ is the only one we can trust. But we struggle with letting go, every bit as much as the young man Jesus was speaking to in the verse above. In order to follow Jesus today what do you need to let go of?

  1. Denying yourself

            “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” Luke 9:23 (NASB). If letting is hard, denying yourself is even harder. Sunday will be Palm Sunday; the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time. The crowds wanted to install him as king, but he knew they would sing a different tune in just a few days. He knew he would be dead, crucified before the week was up. What would you do if you had only a short time to live? Jesus didn’t get out his bucket list and book some flights, not because he didn’t want to, but because he was more concerned with living out the will of his Father/God. For that to happen he had to deny himself, walk past his fears, and embrace his cross. In order to follow Jesus today what cross do you need to carry?

  1. Hearing Jesus’ voice

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” John 10:27 (NASB). Have you ever had a conversation with your GPS on your car dash? Nah, not you! Have you ever ignored that voice because you knew a shortcut, a better route, only to have to pull over to recalibrate because you got yourself completely turned around? There are no shortcuts to eternity, to holiness, to godliness, to Christlikeness, you have to follow the only one who knows and is the way, you have to stay close enough to recognize and hear his voice, and you have to do what he says. It is the only way to “get there.” In order to follow Jesus today what is he clearly saying to you that you need to obey?

I have found that the less willing I am to let go, the more I refuse to deny myself, the more selective I become about following what Jesus is saying to me, and soon become a confused and tired sheep living by my own strength and wisdom and will, which bring me nowhere near eternity. Make this Easter a surrender, a renewal, a recommitment to follow Jesus all the way into eternity.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is your definition of blessing, your mental picture of a blessed life? A lot depends on it. It plays a significant part in determining what we value. It will impact how we evaluate our circumstances. It will shape our fears. It shapes the core of our faith. It will drive our actions.

Have you ever examined the prayer requests in y/our church and churches you have visited? The vast (and I mean vast) majority are about health, followed by requests for protection and provision. It reveals our spiritual priorities as much as the record of our checking accounts reveals our financial priorities. How do we reconcile this with Jesus’ instruction, “If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” Matthew 6:29-33 (NLT2).

Small wonder that the “prosperity gospel,” health and wealth preachers find easy prey and are exploiting people and believers all over the globe. They tie into both the anxieties and definitions of blessings that are common to all people but should not be to followers of Christ. Small wonder the politics of nationalism, exclusion, and hate have always found vast audiences even among Christians. If our definition of blessing is at its core about health, wealth, prosperity, liberty, comfort and security we will be overcome by fear anytime they are threatened, and we will do whatever is necessary to maintain, protect, and restore those blessings. And when that happens, according to Jesus, we act no different than those who do not believe.

It is not wrong to seek the blessing(s) of God. Actually, the Bible (the written word of God) continually encourages living according to the commands, principles, and ways God blesses, for example, “Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams” Malachi 3:10 (MSG). Who wouldn’t want for God to pour out blessings beyond what we even asked and hoped for over him or her, over our families, over us as a people? Imagine with me getting it all (much like Solomon mentioned above), health wealth, peace, comfort, safety, not just for you but also for your family and nation. (Are you feeling blessed just imagining it?). Are you aware that this the point most people forget about God, quit depending on God, no longer have a need for God (including Solomon)? That this definition of blessing is also our greatest stumbling block, intoxicating to our sin-nature?

A Christian definition of blessing is much broader than health, prosperity, liberty, comfort, and safety; it has to be because it has to encompass earthly reality and the kingdom of God, it has to concern itself with more than own needs and include the needs of all of mankind, it has to be about more than the here and now and fully embrace the eternal, it needs to take us beyond our own dreams and completely embrace the plans and purposes of God. So, how confused do you think was Jesus’ audience when they heard him declare, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …, those who mourn …, the gentle …, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …, the merciful …, the pure in heart …, the peacemakers …, and then top it off with the following, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (Jesus Christ). Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV, parenthesis mine)?

As followers of Jesus, we dare not live by an incomplete definition of blessing because in short order it will cause us to think, worry, speak, vote, cheer, and fight like unbelievers. And, it will render us a people with much passion for the things of this world (1 John 2:15-16) but little thought and even less fire for the Jesus’ kingdom.

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

 

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Fine Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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

 

 

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