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Archive for the ‘incarnation’ Category

The man being interviewed on NPR (National Public Radio) told about a social worker who made both impression and a difference in his life. What he remembered all these later was a simple smile, no words, no particular action, just a genuine, hopeful, affirming smile.

Let me ask you, “Are you capable of a smile?” I know I am.

A lady, a complete stranger, after reading about my younger brother’s suicide in the paper penned a note and sent it to my Mama bringing immense comfort to her.

Let me ask you, “Are you capable of writing a note?” I know I am.

A handful of young teenage boys decided to not spend all of their allowances and earnings on themselves and instead contribute a few dollars each month to fund a poor teenager on a different continent so he could have food an education.

Let me ask you, “Are you capable of spending a few less dollars on yourself each month?” I know I am.

“Are you capable of doing good? I know I am.

“Do you have some skill, some ability, resources, or experiences with which you could bless someone else? I know I do.

Could you make some time, change your plans in order to help someone, encourage someone, or comfort someone? I know I could.

There are few things we need to continually remind ourselves when it comes to doing good.

  • Doing good is not optional if I am serious about following God/Christ.

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 3 John 1:11 (HCSB)

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” 1 Peter 3:10-11 (NIV)

  • I am much more selective in doing good than Christ wants me to be.

“But I (Jesus) say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” Luke 6:27 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

  •  I can learn to do good like God wants me to.

You (God) are good and do good; teach me your statutes.
Psalm 119:68 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

  •  Doing good and procrastination don’t go together, nor do I have any good excuses not to do good.

Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. Hebrews 13:16 (HCSB)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10 (NIV)

  • Doing good can be very tiring, exhausting even, but it is always right and Christlike to do good.

As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired (grow weary) of doing good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NLT2, parenthesis mine)

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Little Big Things – Words – How We Say What We Say

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17 (NLT2)

As a lousy speller, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate “spell check” and “Grammarly,” without them these p-notes of mine would be unreadable, although I am sure many of still cringe at my use of the English language. However, spell-checking by itself is not enough, it won’t pick up using a rightly spelled wrong word, it won’t reign in my twisted grammar. My words need multiple checks, yours probably do too. It is like that with all of our words, all our communications, because it is not just what we say that is important but also how we say it. Love and kindness, and humility are not optional to the serious Christian life, to a Holy Spirit filled and directed life. You can say, “I love you,” and not really mean it. Were you ever told to apologize right now and say, “I’m sorry,” but you really didn’t mean it and although you said the words you weren’t sorry one bit?

Can you be too loving, too kind, too humble, too meek? Maybe, but judging by my own self and most people I have met we are not even close to the too loving, too kind, too humble line, so we might as well hide behind it.

We are capable, you know, to speak words and even say difficult things wrapped in love. We can decide to propagate our speech with kindness. We are able to check our pride, to edit our tendency to self-promote, to look at things from more than our own viewpoints, to use our words to benefit the listeners.

Just because we want to say it does not mean we should, especially if we are mad, disgusted, frustrated, bitter, disappointed, hurt, rushed, exhausted, betrayed, unappreciated, under-valued, treated wrongly, or are suffering an injustice. “Well it needed to be said and I’m glad I said it!” sounds good, but still is no excuse to leave love, kindness, and humility behind. We are so good at defending ourselves even when we are wrong, aren’t we?

Scripture tells us to:

  • “Speak the truth in love.”Ephesians 4:1
  • “What is desirable in a man is his kindness, And it is better to be a poor man than a liar. Proverbs 19:22 (NASB)
  • A woman of excellence,“She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26 (NASB)
  • “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)

 What happens when we divorce our words from the right attitudes, a godly tone, a Christlike heart? It becomes easy to speak (and type) harsh, self-righteous, divisive, manipulative, destructive, hateful, two-faced, deceptive, proud and arrogant words. Good words are robbed of their ability to bless, to heal, to encourage, to produce good. An “I love you,” becomes twisted. An “I am so sorry,” drives a deeper wedge. A good word or praise breeds distrust, “What does he really want.” Listeners are not better off for having heard them.

Right words are almost impossible without a right heart, but oh how refreshing it is to be on the listening end of right words from a good heart. The two of us, let’s keep praying and practicing the scripture below and both of us will be better off be. May the words of my mouth (all my words) and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

We have a way of changing the story, not just the Christmas story, but stories in general. This too, is what marks sinners. It happens every day, in editorial meetings, communications offices, courtrooms, lunch conversations, principals’ offices, telephone calls, press releases, leaks, history books and documentaries, and … The focus gets changed, facts are omitted, small details are exaggerated, emphases are shifted, fingers get pointed, personal and political agendas take hold and rearrange.

The birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, the redemptive plan of God centered in his Son Jesus Christ is a case in point. What has happened to Mary, the young woman whom God offered to become the mother of the Christ. We actually know precious little about her. How do you picture her? For the most part her story has been taken into three directions: 1. She is a demur young woman who is all but passive, holding up the baby Jesus to visitors and artist/photographers with a peaceful smile on her face. 2. She has been elevated to the status of semi-goddess. 3. She has been reduced to a fictional character in an utterly absurd religious story. All of these have changed the story.

Mary’s name means “obstinate, rebellious.” Her Old Testament name sake is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was anything but a demur soul, but rather outspoken, strong-willed, and quick-witted. God clearly saw Mary for more than breeding stock with the right blood line, he, above anyone else, knew that this young woman knew how to think, had inner strength, had a faith willing to take risks, was honest, and didn’t need the limelight. God invited her into his story and she volunteered herself, her body, and her life for life. And she didn’t change the story, her story – others did. She let the story be about Jesus, her life be about Jesus.

So, this Christmas, what have you done with the story, the truth of Jesus? How much have you changed it? Have you dismissed it? Have you replaced it with your own narrative? Have you reduced it to sentimental movie tradition, to a leggy lamp and a Red Rider BB gun? Has it become about your family instead of God’s family?

“Jesus Christ came into our world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), that is the unchanged story of Christmas. You and I can respond to it like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, …” (Luke 1:38), and from then on let our lives be about Jesus Christ, or we can to decide to do what sinners do, change the story, but only one can actually save you.

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

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I have double confession to make: 1. I am not good at giving gifts. I love to help, be generous, but gift-giving is not my spiritual gift. 2. I am not very good at receiving gifts either, a weakness for sure. I am way too German/Schwaebisch, which means I am terrible with “Kitsch,” useless, knick-knack, cheap stuff. When it comes to gifts the running joke and question in my family is whether I am going to take things back and exchange them. I am slowly improving, thanks to intensive tutoring by Susie (my wife, who is super good at the gift and receiving of gifts thing), but progress has been very slow.

Christmas is about giving and receiving, specifically God giving and us receiving. Above anything else, this Christmas would you think about, contemplate God giving us the ultimate gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) and your response to this gift of Jesus Christ.

However, before reflecting on God’s “indescribable gift,” Jesus Christ, think about everything else you have received from God. Let’s start from the very beginning. Your life, your first heartbeat, your first breath, all the way to this present moment is a gift from God. Your ability to laugh, cry, feel, do good, think, and chose, are all things God gave to you and me. The characteristics that make you you and me me, whether it is our tenacity, courage, boldness, tenderness, kindness, intelligence, handiness, …, are from God as well. The “lucky breaks,” the opportunities, the things you survived, can also be traced back to the giving heart of God. The fact is you and I have received from God all our lives, from the very beginning until now. It makes no difference whether you acknowledge this fact or sneer at it, it still stands as the truth; the only difference is that acknowledging it will make you grateful and not doing so will render you ungrateful, acknowledging it will cause you to have an increasing sense of responsibility towards God, disavowing it will cause you to be blind in your responsibility towards God. It is not a matter of whether you have received from God all your life but whether your life expresses your gratitude towards God.

Esau (Genesis 25-27, 25:34, 27:38) was born before his twin brother Jacob, which, in his ancient culture, meant he also got the significant firstborn rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately, he could have cared less about these gifts from God (admittedly, it is often hard to think of responsibilities as gifts), so in a careless moment he literally sold his birthright for a pot of stew, for mere pocket change. And he regretted it bitterly when it was too late. How grateful and careful are you for and with all God has given you up to this point in your life?

Esau is not in lonely company when it comes to being ungrateful for what God gave him, being careless with what God entrusted to him, shirking the responsibilities God handed to him. He is not the only sinner, the only one who has blown it, the only one who exchanged God’s gifts for something far less. No, you and are sitting right next to him in this historical boat (Romans 3:23). Which brings us back to Jesus, back to Christmas, back to God’s greatest gift, the gift that can save sinners, the gift that can help ungrateful screwups like you and me find forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. But like all gifts, it won’t benefit you unless you receive it, in this case him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son, the Savior of the world.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Go” John 1:12 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Let’s get ready for Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

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How much can one story change things?

What comes to your mind when you hear or read the word, “Samaritan?” Chances are high that you associate “Samaritan” with someone who cares, someone who helps people in need, in fact very often you will find the adjective “good” added to Samaritan. This wasn’t always so. Most of the people who listened to Jesus the day he told the story of what we now call the parable of the Good Samaritan thought of the Samaritans in entirely unfavorable terms. Being called a “Samaritan” was a racial slur, a putdown, a declaration of being part of a people who were no good, were untrustworthy, and who had a long history of religious impurity and compromise. Worthless people, people you avoid, people you wished lived far away or not at all. When Jesus took his disciples through Samaria (a route serious Jews avoided) his disciples couldn’t wait to get out of there, so much so they were going to miss the kingdom opportunities staring them in the face (John 4:4-43).

Who are the people you don’t care for? You want to get away from as fast possible? Who represent to you all that wrong with the world? Who couldn’t possibly do much good if any at all? Who have this really lousy reputation? Who are discardable, dispensable, and reprehensible in your social, cultural, political, and religious context? Who couldn’t possible become an example of anything good?

Jesus told just one story (Luke 10:25-37), in the context of being asked about how to inherit eternal life and a subsequent question about whom we should love and whom we are free not to love and care for. Just one story of a right, caring, courageous, and generous act by a Samaritan, of all people, changed the way an untold multitude has thought of Samaritans across centuries all the way till now.

Beyond the larger context Jesus clearly reminded the questioner and all those listening in, including us, that we are constantly living in a story, and how we act our story makes a big difference, identifies who we really are, and what we want our world to be like.

Over the years I have officiated at hundreds of funerals, listened to thousands of stories being told, many, if not most recounting episodes of lives lived in selfish pursuits, of good times, funny incidents, personal successes, and too often of even the questionable dressed up to sound good. On the other hand, rare are the stories that tell of watershed moments, of when God-ordained detours where embraced, when self was denied in favor of doing what is right, and good, and godly. Stories of when new reputations were forged, when evil was defeated, when someone put him or herself in the hand of God and said, “Write away O God! Write what makes a difference, what counts, what epitomizes what caring, loving, and eternal values are all about.”

It is our great struggle, isn’t it, which stories to write and which to bypass, what to engage with and what to ignore, what to open our heart to and what to close it to, how comfortable and safe to be and when where to risk it, how much of God’s most fundamental commands to fully embrace or to justify settling for less. Jesus was unambiguous in his parting words to the one who prompted the story in first place, “Go and do likewise.”

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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I don’t understand it, never have, Christians proclaiming the unimportance of the church, Christians thinking that somehow living in community with other Christians is optional, Christians proclaiming their love for Christ but not loving the things Jesus loves, “… Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean …” (Ephesians 5:25).

The level of scriptural ignorance and/or willful dismissal regarding the importance of the church, the body of Christ, the local manifestation of the family of God is both as staggering as it is sinful. Maybe you are already objecting, “Whoa preacher, that’s getting out big stick, the “sin” hammer, mighty quickly.” On the contrary, I challenge you to find anything in the New Testament that makes belonging to, being part of, attending, and serving in a church optional. All the excuses are just that, excuses. The words for putting yourself outside of what God has put you in are sin, disobedience, rebellion, living according to your own will. Swift and clear was the Apostle Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians Christians regarding being factious, only being around those they liked, dismissing the fact that they were to be completely interdependent on each other and needed to have a deep appreciation for each other: “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” …  “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, NLT).

You and I can never be the church on our own. We cannot be the church watching spiritual TV programming, listing to podcasts, reading stuff on the internet. The only way for us to be church is to live in community with each other, working together, growing together, praying together, worshipping together, serving together, doing the Christian life together. Anything that stays from all of that is simply a bad habit, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV, emphasis mine). Notice some of the implication for every believer.

  • Want to grow in and persevere with love and good deeds? You need the church.
  • Discouraged? You need the church.
  • Are all about theological issues like eschatology and the end times? It should drive you to deeper participation in the church.

When I first became a Christian a wise deacon gave me the following advice, “Hans, beginning today start reading and living the Bible every day. Secondly, wherever life takes you seek out fellowship and life together with other believers.” I could not have received better counsel. No Christian thrives without the Word of God and without participation in the body of Christ.

To God be all glory. 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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