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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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Did you watch or listen to Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump square off in the first presidential debate of 2016? Of course that is not the only debate, the media supporting either side has been debating all along and so has the politically engaged general public in various forums ranging from social media to personal conversations. Some decide to stay completely out of the fray of politics and in doing so make a political statement in itself. The reality is it is impossible to be apolitical.

The Bible, God’s written word, certainly is not apolitical. The Exodus of the ancient Israelites out of Egypt is not just a spiritual movement; it is also a political one. Joshua and the conquest of Canaan is a political event. The period of the judges is a study in the difficulties of self-governance as well as the how spiritual matters and politics are interlinked. The beginning chapters of Samuel is an object lesson of the rejection of God in politics, abandoning personal responsibility in  politics and entrusting it to someone else, and how disgruntlement in the present can cause a majority to make foolish decisions. The book Esther is all about individual responsibility in current politics and the providence of God being inseparable from the politics of the day and history as a whole. Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah do not just give historical facts and teach spiritual lessons, but they are manuals as to good, godly, and great governmental leadership vs. evil, self-serving, and godless leadership. None of prophets stayed out of politics, in fact it is their involvement that brought them ridicule, abuse, imprisonment, and death. Jesus’ birth brought on political paranoia, his life and teaching threatened the existing powers, and the leaders of his day were utterly confounded by him. The apostles and early church not only propagated the Gospel of personal salvation but also profoundly affected their culture. The Epistles deal not just with doctrine and personal conduct but also how Christians are to function public. Revelation leaves no doubt that not just individuals fall under the sovereignty and judgment of God but also the nations. To pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is a political prayer, it yearns for, seeks the rule of God over all the earth.

So how are Christians supposed to engage in politics?

  • Through prayer (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
  • In accordance with the commands, principles, and values of the Word of God, the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Psalm 119:160)
  • By engaging with the world instead of withdrawing from it and merely judging it. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 1 John 4:17)
  • By humbly yielding whatever influence God assigns to each one of us. (Esther 4:14; Acts 13:36; Numbers 12:3)
  • For the good of others. (Galatians 6:9-10; Titus 1:1-2&8)
  • With kindness, compassion, and sacrifice. (Matthew 5:1-16)
  • With restraint, patience, and perseverance. (Galatians 5:22-23; 6:9-10)
  • With Faith, hoping in and relying on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 13:13; Colossians 1:27-28)
  • To the glory of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Peter 4:11)

To God be all glory. Love you Pastor Hans.

 

 

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Human history a tale of conflict, strife, enmity, violence, and war. The Bible reflects this reality from the 3rd chapter of Genesis to the 20th chapter of Revelation. All the advancements of science, all the modern advancements of technology, all the study of history, all of the religious practices and rejections of the one true God by mankind have not changed that reality. In fact, we just have gotten better at it. At the battle of Cannae it took Hannibal and his army a day to slaughter 80,000 Romans, today we can level a city of millions in a flash. We can’t even imagine peace without strong armies standing guard and willing to fight.

The threats are not only external, nations and peoples pitted against each other, but also internal. Try to name a nation that is without strife, without conflict, without violence, without corruption, without various groups pitted against each other and willing to fight, clashing over ideologies, policies, liberties, rights, wealth, and … Just think about how much blood has been spilled between the East and West coasts of the United States from long before the Europeans settled here down to the present day.

Even the history of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, incarnate for 30 odd years is marked at its very beginning by Herod’s regional infanticide, serval attempt on his life, and eventually his crucifixion.  The words of Isaiah the prophet are as true today as when he first wrote them and when Jesus walked the earth, “The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace.  So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows” Isaiah 59:8-9 (NIV. Take a few minutes, get out a copy of the Bible or find one online, and read Isaiah 58-59 and let it sink in).

Both presently and ultimately it takes the intervention of the prince of peace, a Savior, the one who can change both the human heart and history to interrupt the cycles of depravity we cannot escape on our own, to regenerate what sin has killed, to redeem what has been lost, to reconcile us to God and his will, and to make us merciful as he is merciful (Luke 6:36).

Things are so much cleaner on paper, neater on a page filled with words. The hard part is translating what is right, what is good, what is just, and what pleases God into our lives, our private life, community life, political life, national life, our “neighbor’s” life, our enemy’s life. How do you that?

  • You have to care “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2 (NIV).Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” Philippians 2:4 (NIV).
  • You have dream of something better Jesus cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings …!” Luke 13:34 (NIV). ‘‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” Matthew 5:6 (NIV).  “(Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” Hebrews 11:10 (NIV).
  • You have to be willing to weep for others and over the brokenness you see –“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” Matthew 5:4&9 (NIV). “…, weep with those who weep” Romans 12:15 (NASB).
  • You have to orient yourself on God and his Son Jesus Christ –“(Father God) Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10 (NIV, parenthesis mine).  “…, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” 1 Corinthians 1:24 (NIV).  “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” James 3:17-18 (ESV).
  • You have engage and don’t quit – “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, …” Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV).  “Be doers of the word (of God, the Bible) …” James 1:22 (ESV, parenthesis mine). I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them” Hebrews 6:11-12 (MSG).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV).

Yesterday was a great day, my grandsons came up (well, Mom drove them). The one month old mostly slept and holding him that’s pretty much all I wanted to do too. The twenty-month old came with a to do list on his mind: Feed the chickens, put up the swing and try to wear it out, play guitar, get into the truck, and help Opa any way he can. He wore me out.

All week long I have been thinking about victory, it is what I want for my grandsons, it is what their parents hope and pray for, it is what I hope and pray for both you and myself. But I have lived long enough to know that defeat lurks around every corner, even in victory defeat doesn’t surrender. Don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating for being paranoid, that is a form of living defeated (sometimes also mental illness). But I have looked into defeated little faces in kindergarten, in fancy houses, on the other side of the world, in hospitals, churches, food-lines, and in the mirror. I have seen some of the vast arsenal defeat has as its disposal, words that wound and maim, violence that shatters, poverty that chokes, injustice that demoralizes, foolishness that wrecks, hate, bitterness, betrayal, pain, suffering, disappointment, regret, helplessness, seeing those who you love self-destruct, ruts too deep to get out of, evil, the evil one, wickedness, sin and its inherent twistedness and self-deception.

I wish there was a shot to inoculate my precious grandsons from all of the above, because I know they will be assaulted, defeat will try to bust through their doors throughout their lives. They will come to plenty of forks in the road where they will be forced to choose between the road to victory and the path to defeat. So I want to be a contributor to victory in their lives, after all the joy is in victory not in defeat.

You, me, and my grandsons can learn a lot about victory from history, from examining people who overcame, who triumphed, who refused to give in, cave in, or to give up. History will also expose us to people who did great things, won tremendous victories and ended in utter defeat – the final verdict on victory comes after we cross the finish line. But hands down, the greatest, the best source for victory is God and his written word (the Bible). Anyone who lets the Bible shape their character, determine his/her decisions, heeds its wisdom, relies on its power, submits to its authority, and takes the hand of the God and of the ultimate victor, Jesus Christ, will live victoriously, will overcome, will even overcome the onslaught of death. I pray these grandsons of mine will have an Opa who will serve as a life-long example of living out God’s word and they themselves will embrace it with all of their hearts, because if they do, they will be victorious – and so will you.

“My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken! “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word” Isaiah 66:2 (NLT).

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

 

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