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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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Amazing Grace and Ray Coffee,

I was his pastor for 33 years, in fact he, along with the others who voted in early August of 1984 to call me as the interim pastor of the Lake Don Pedro Baptist Church, is responsible that I am your pastor today. He was about the age I am now when he cast that vote and I wonder how many times he wondered whether it was a smart move to entrust a stubborn German with the pastoral responsibilities of this flock. And, if I am honest there were times I wondered why in the world I signed on to be Ray’s pastor. Nevertheless, we ended up with 33 years of relationship and friendship, of sharing in God’s amazing grace.

From what Ray told me he was a rough, mean, hard-drinking, short-tempered man before God got a hold of him and he called on Christ to save him. He never did figure out why a girl named Barbara decided to love him and try to tame him, although she wondered a lot about how successful she actually was. Between Christ and Barbara, Ray did change, but growing spiritually was a struggle for him for as long as I knew him, “the old man dies hard,” the flesh wars against the spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). This struggle did make Ray more keenly aware that God’s grace in Christ was his only hope. He was saved by and died (“fell asleep” -1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), in amazing grace.

God assembled a small group of men and women in their late working and early retirement life to start a church here in Don Pedro. Everything that has happened in and through this local church body, this church family (that’s what it was for him) Ray has had a part in it, through serving, helping, building, giving, inviting, investing and showing up. This too is a result of amazing grace.

For Ray, like most of us, his greatest assets were also the source of his weaknesses. Ray had the gift of gab, the ability to communicate with complete strangers, to build relationships quickly, but his mouth also spoke when it should have kept silent, said things that were inappropriate, were ill-timed, and many times hurtful. His patriotism, service to the country, work-ethic, and dependability, were unquestionable, but they also could make him judgmental. His zest for life made him a person of action, but it also could make him selfish. So, it was more than just words when he sang about coming “to the garden alone” to walk and talk with God, to meet with living and eternal “Amazing Grace.”

I miss him, how could I not, 33-year relationships don’t happen all the time, 33- year friendships are a gift, 33 years of serving Christ together is precious. In this relationship, I got to graduate from the “kid” to “You are alright’’ to “my pastor,” I count that as a great honor, and as amazing grace.

To God be all glory. Pastor Hans

 

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God Bless America

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
Psalm 67:1-7 (ESV)

It is a good thing to seek God’s blessing. We are much better off when God’s “good hand” is on us individually and collectively, and conversely, we are never in greater trouble than when God stretches out his hand against us. Which means God’s blessing is not automatic and he gets to decide the whom, what, when, and how of his blessings.

There is no problem with God’s blessing; the problems are in how we handle God’s blessings. We are not superior to the ancient Israelites who excelled at squandering God’s blessings, who didn’t use their liberty to liberate others, who didn’t use their prosperity to bless others, who when they received justice were not compelled to seek justice for others. God’s blessing did not inspire them to be more generous, more compassionate, more selfless, more forward looking, and more devoted to each other and to God. God’s blessing did not compel them to check their greed, their pride, their lusts, and their bend towards idolatry. In the end they fooled themselves into thinking that God was going to bless them because they were more special, “chosen,” “children of Abraham,” or in our case citizens of “the land of the free and the brave.”

Have you ever thought about how much more blessed we could be if we would only orient ourselves more on God, who as you read above, “judges the peoples with equity.” How much blessing have we squandered because we have not paid attention to just this one characteristic of God? There was no blessing in the treatment and genocide of Native Americans, prosperity, yes, but blessing no (remember the wicked do know how to prosper, Psalm 73:3, Job 21:7). Slavery held no blessing, but much profit. Segregation was not a snapshot of heaven. The wholesale legalization of abortion was not a victory but devalued and an entire segment of humanity among us and stripped it them of the most basic right, the right to life. There is no blessing in our staggering accumulation of debt, but it does expose our corruption, our greed, our inability to live within our means, and trusting our own wisdom more than God’s.  The need for affordable health care is not a problem for the rich, but it is for the poor, working families, and millions elderly, there is no blessing in not fixing this inequity. We squander blessing for both ourselves and the generations that follow us when we do not act towards the orphan, the widow, the poor, the alien (the foreigners among us), the weak, the oppressed, and the mistreated the way God does. We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and not desire that blessing for our “neighbor” (Luke 10:25-36).  We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and exclude him from public life, mock him in our culture, and reduce him to one among many gods. We are not immune to both burning through the inheritance left to us and adding to the list of things that are devoid of God’s blessing.

We should seek God’s blessing, it is unequivocally the right thing to do for us, for others, for the future, and before God. You and I should with all of hearts seek God’s blessing for America, so we will bless him, so He will receive the praise and honor he deserves, so we will “leave an inheritance” of blessing to our children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), an inheritance that is about more than prosperity, more than self, but instead perpetuates, “equal,” “the pursuit of happiness,” and “liberty and justice for all” (all truly meaning all, including all people and peoples).” Only then can we legitimately be called good and godly, only then can we sing, “God bless America,” and it be more than a patriotic sentiment but a sincere request of Almighty God. O that “all the ends of the earth would fear him,” know him, praise him, and worship him.

May God bless the United States of America. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Greatness

They were rebuilding the temple, the capital, their country. They celebrated, shouted, danced, and had a great ceremony when they dedicated the new temple foundation. It was the right thing to do, this was a great day, things were going upward. Some however, a small crowd of old people, wept (Ezra 3:12). They remembered the old temple, the one Solomon had built, the time when silver was counted as nothing because of the abundance of gold (2 Chronicles 9:20). Haggai the prophet told Zerubbabel to ask those old survivors, Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” Haggai 2:3 (NIV).

Great, Greatness looks different to different people. The CEO might be celebrated by the shareholders because the stock price went through the roof, but the workforce might be cursing his name because their work conditions and meager wages. There all kinds of halls of fame, awards ceremonies, and prestigious prizes (especially here in America), all of them highlighting and celebrating greatness in some field, but while some cheer others weep, what looks good on the stage might me misery at home.

Of course I am bringing all this up because the words “greatness,” “being great again,” is echoing across the land, primarily in terms of patriotism, protectionism, power, and prosperity. We will be great when we are first, when we win, when we prosper.

In some ways there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t just want to be mediocre, no good citizen wants their country to be so-so, and certainly not be a mess. There are noble aspirations. But just what and who defines noble aspirations for a person and a people? Not you and me, not the cheers of the masses, not the memories of the aged, not the evaluations of the experts, not who has the most, not who is the most eloquent, accomplished, or educated. God alone is able to define true greatness, for the simple and most obvious reason, there is no one greater. His greatness has never faded, it bears no flaw, it is unchallenged and glorious beyond compare. The greatness of God also informs us that true greatness and morality are never separated; we cannot be truly great and be unholy.

When God the Son, Jesus Christ, walked among us in human flesh he confronted his followers, his disciples on the issue of greatness. Their aspirations were unholy, they were jockeying for cabinet posts, they thought it was mainly about national politics and to simply make Israel great again. Scheming behind the scenes – acceptable. No transparency – acceptable. Not caring about some – acceptable. Making it all about power – acceptable. So “He (Jesus Christ) asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” Mark 9:33-35 (ESV).

“But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many’” Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT).

We are called to flesh out this kind of greatness. We are not at liberty to reduce Jesus’ clear instruction and command (“must”) to merely our private sphere. We must take on the challenge to realize Christlike greatness in all personal, public, political, and pressing realities of our day. We will never be really great unless our definition of greatness matches God’s. We will never be really great if our aspirations for greatness do not inspire what is good and right and holy, right where we live and for all people/s.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Arrogant and haughty winners, sore and bitter losers are one of the perils of democracy, of voting on people, platforms, policies, programs, and propositions. Votes give permission and control, but they don’t automatically settle things and heal. In fact at the end of a vote the division, dissension, and drama might be greater than they were before the vote.

On the heels of a long, nasty, and divisive presidential election, the calls for “working together,” “laying aside partisanship,” “reaching across the aisle,” “extending olive branches,” etc. can be heard, but if the past is a good predictor of the future then we are hearing mostly empty words.

I know politics isn’t church (and sadly too often church politics are indistinguishable), but we’d be better off if we had more church in politics. The church is God’s assembly of people who have above all a belief in and a commitment to follow Jesus Christ according to the Bible (God’s written word/revelation) in common. The Greek word translated “church” is “ekklesia,” the term used for the electorate of ancient Greek democracies. If you were part of the “ekkletoi,” you had a voice, a vote, and a responsibility to show up and to serve as the assembly saw fit.

The church is God’s “ekklesia” and functions best in open acknowledgment of God, in submission to God, and with a heart to glorify God. Hubris plagues mankind in general and winners in particular, and godlessness magnifies it.

People are the most important commodity in the church. Church people often address each other with “sister” or “brother” because when you look at, care for, and treat each other like brothers and sisters you are starting to get it.

Moral values, godly ethical standards, and beliefs are indispensible to the functioning of the church and are no less so to any people. We disintegrate, fracture, exploit and turn on each other without them. The highest of these is selfless, sacrificing love. Honesty/truth-telling, respect, decency, generosity, non-violence, dependability, eschewing vices, accountability, and discerning and resisting evil are a few others.

Values and beliefs are worthless if they are not practiced. It is when they have become habitual that they set the standard. In church everyone benefits if all continually show up and serve, if all read the Bible and apply it, if everybody prays, if every last one is committed to grow in love, wisdom, kindness, goodness, selflessness, and as person.

Maybe you are thinking, “There he goes again, the preacher preaching and dreaming away, with little connection to reality.” But just as a church is sunk without unity, so is a nation. The history of this our nation records a bloody civil war; it was preceded by voting that only deepened the divide. It was also preceded by giving a lot of lip-service to God while ignoring his will and ways. We as a people and Christians in particular, need to bring more church into our politics, our interactions – the way we care for one another as brothers and sisters. Someone has to be willing begin and then continue with the healing, bridging the divides, practicing the reality that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Evil, evil men and women, our own sinful bend will fan the divisive flames that have marked this election and us as a people. This is not the time to pack it in till the next vote, this is the time for you and me and our politicians to put more church into politics.

To God be all glory. May God help and bless us as a people. Pastor Hans

 

 

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Did you ever not really want do it, the right thing, the pressing thing, the needed thing that is? That for which you were born, for which the sovereignty and providence of God had placed you there and then (and here and now)? That which makes you have to decide between what is good for you and what is good for others, between playing it safe and risky, between comfortable and suffering, between carefree and weighty responsibility, between your will and God’s will?

Often we talk about politics and politicians in ways that depicts the whole thing as them versus us. We freely express our disapproval, our disappointment, our frustration with “them,” the Washington establishment, the president, Congress, the courts, the EPA, FDA, DHS, …, and often very justifiably so. We bemoan the partisanship, the corruption, the fiscal irresponsibility and waste, the disconnectedness, the shortsightedness, double speak, the lack of morality, and … We want more honesty, more integrity, more selflessness, more restraint, and more wisdom from those politicians, judges, and officials. We wish for more caring for what is good for all for the long term rather than what is good for just some, and worse, what is merely good to staying in power. We want treasured values to be upheld, not undermined, or for sale to the highest bidder, or prostituted to garner ratings and votes. Those people in Washington D.C. and Sacramento need to get it together!

Like many of you I received my absentee ballot this past week, it is reminder that you and I have political responsibility beyond opining and complaining. We have a responsibility to participate, to embrace our part, to practice the very integrity, selflessness, discipline, foresight, caring, and wisdom we have judged our politicians and leaders lack.

Politics, power, and influence always walk together. You combine the power of a large group if small, seemingly insignificant, people and their influence grows as well. They might even become a movement that changes the political landscape. One person embracing God’s will, taking up the responsibility the power and influence granted to him/her can make a huge difference in a family, community, a nation, in this world (e.g. Joseph, Genesis 37-50). The fact that the two candidates, one of whom will most likely be the next US president, are deeply flawed, rate low on the truth telling index, do not have a track record that inspires trust, and are dogged by corruption and scandal is also a reflection and indictment of the politicians at the most grassroots level, the voters, you and me. In the 2012 presidential election less than 55% of the total electorate voted, more than half of evangelical Christians abdicated their responsibility to vote. These are staggering statistics testifying of political and spiritual irresponsibility and disengagement.

The two highest values in the universe are loving God and loving people, caring about cares about and caring for others like we care about ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). Both of these values will lead you and me to service, serving God, serving others, serving our nation, serving the world. Those values will call us to do things we don’t really want to do, things that stand in the way of self-serving, self-indulgence, self-seeking, and the like. Those values will compel us to be engaged, to embrace every responsibility, every opportunity to influence our world to the glory of God.

Mordecai posed a rhetorical question to his niece Esther, the queen of Persia, who hesitated to become politically involved, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 (NIV). Of course she was! Just like God has placed you and me into this time with power and influence to affect lives and politics for the glory of God. And so we must chose both at the ballot box and in the daily voting of our lives.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Without question it is good to have God on your side, actually it is the very best life scenario for each one of us individually, for our families, for us and any people. The ancient Israelites would remind themselves of that great truth as they made their way up to the temple to worship, What if the LORD had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the LORD had not been on our side when people attacked us? They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger
Psalm 124:1-3 (NLT).

However, simply claiming that God is on your side does not put him there. The Israelites fooled themselves into thinking that God was automatically on their side because of their claim to be God’s “chosen people.” Jeremiah the prophet reminded them, “You have left Me. This is the LORD’s declaration. You have turned your back, so I have stretched out My hand against you and destroyed you. I am tired of showing compassionJeremiah 15:6 (HCSB); See, I am against you, O arrogant one, declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty, for your day has come, the time for you to be punished’” Jeremiah 50:31 (NIV). God is not automatically on the side of the United States just because we consider ourselves champions of freedom, have a long list of proud accomplishments, or simply lay claim to be good. God is not automatically on the side of any political party, group, or individual. In fact, God might be adamantly opposed. As good as it is to have God on your side it is absolutely terrible when God is “against you.”

God had the Apostle Paul pen,First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (HCSB). Notice:

  • “Everyone” – God wants everyone to prayed for, even those we do not want to pray for, those we disagree with, those who make life difficult for us, those who are outright enemies. “Everyone” is so darn encompassing.
  • “Everyone” – Includes “kings and all who are in authority.” God expects us to pry concerning politics, politicians, government leaders and officials, heads of state. (Paul most likely wrote 1 Timothy when Nero ruled in Rome.) Political praying is not so much concerned with pulling God to your side, to get more of God’s blessing than the other side, than it is about good and wise governing that effects “everyone,” that creates peace, justice, and stability, enabling people to live quiet, dignified lives.
  • “Everyone”- God wants everyone to come to be saved to understand the absolute necessity and reality of Jesus Christ. God’s agenda of redemption encompasses, everyone, all peoples, all nations. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NLT).

Ultimately no one can be on God’s side apart from Jesus Christ. The very best thing politicians and government leaders can do is to be committed to Jesus Christ personally, not for getting votes during an election cycle, but for their own salvation, and then govern and exercise authority out of that relationship with God through Christ. Actually, this is the best thing “everyone” could and should do, because we are better when we are on God’s side.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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