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Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Among the realities of the Christian are:

  • Abundance“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesians 1:3, HCSB), “May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:2-3, HCSB).
  • SufficiencyEach person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8,(HCSB), “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, ESV), “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33, NLT).
  • Liberty Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17, (NASB), “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36, NASB), “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13,NIV), “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16,NIV)
  • Fearlessness For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, (NLT), “Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:14-17, ESV), “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6, NASB).

All of the above enable believers to be people of hope, to overflow with hope. Our temptation, however, is to amass and hoard the very things God has intended to enable us to overflow with hope. We are tempted to get another bucket to store the overflow rather than seeking out another person who needs it. We are tempted to build or buy a bigger home rather than offer up the spare room we already have. We are tempted to wall up, lock out, and keep out all those who would make our lives messy rather than open our arms and hearts as wide as the joy, peace, and hope of God enables us to. We are tempted to view freedom as something that mainly enables “me”, gives us opportunity to indulge rather than seeing it as an opportunity to engage and serve. We love to hoard, if not money, then stuff, if not stuff then experiences, because more is better, even it means others will have to wait, will have to do without, will have to be kicked out. Falling to these temptations results in Christian sluggishness, in justifying what is unjustifiable in terms of the values and realities of the kingdom of God, in public pronouncements of our love for God while in private we love another.

We are meant to overflow, which means there is a point we have more than what we need, when our buckets are as full as God made them to be and all of the overflow is meant for someone else. At some point in our spiritual growth, in our transformation to Christlikeness, the overflow should become more important than what is in our bucket because we are absolutely confident that our bucket is in good hands with God and the Christian life is meant to be all wrapped up in the overflow. At that point we start dreaming of having a smaller bucket because that means more overflow, it is the point where less becomes more, and oh how God loves to fill the buckets of those who hunger and thirst for overflow.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grady in January – Sanctity of Human Life, Human Rights, and Justice

grady-in-january-2

Did you know that you are precious, deeply loved, and incredibly valuable? But not just you, every other person is as well. It is an indisputable fact, from conception to the grave every human being is precious to God, loved by God, and has intrinsic value and dignity given to him/her by God.

Our children were home for this Christmas, when they arrived it was hugs and kisses and whenever my arms are wrapped around them I still feel like I am holding the most precious and valuable God will ever put into my arms. That’s also the thing making the good-byes so hard. For a number of years now one of the Christmas gifts Susie, my wife, has given to each family member is a calendar with pictures from our yearly family gathering at the beach. This year’s January is graced with a picture of Grady, the youngest grandson. It is beyond cute, off the precious scale. It’s not hard to spot the incredible value of that little boy, it is easy to fall in love with him, one look and you know he is a gift from God.

But what if Grady had been born with a handicap, if he wouldn’t be the perfect looking little baby boy? What if his conception was at an altogether bad time? What if his arrival spelled a serious inconvenience, even hardship? What if his life expectancy was very short? Would it alter his value? Would he be less precious? Would he be less lovable? Would he be less deserving of dignity? Would his life somehow lack sanctity? Of course not.

We struggle with human rights, with the sanctity of human life, with justice. Somehow while rallying for the right to choose we rationalize trampling on the right to live. Somehow we campaign for lives that truly matter while endorsing the slaughter of the most innocent. We are good at claiming rights for our ourselves but are much more reluctant to grant them to others, especially when and where they impact us, our freedoms, our opportunities, our happiness, and our prosperity and posterity. We are good at framing our arguments, catering to the like-minded, and vilifying, devaluing, stupidifying, and marginalizing those who oppose us. We are for liberty and justice for all who are like us, but then of course there are exceptions. We are prone to forget that preciousness and sanctity of every human life, human rights, and justice for all from conception to the grave is not just an issue, or a cause, a political platform item, an argument to be fought over, a debate about morals and ethics; it is about real people, pre-born, newborn, children, tweens and teens, young people, adults, and old people; friends, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, citizens, illegals, criminals, and enemies; poor, rich educated, illiterate, healthy, and sick people of all colors; all of them created in the image of God. Their pictures, even if it is an ultrasound, and existence are as real as Grady in January.

It is up to you and me, not just to law and policy (as important as they are) to stand for justice, for the right to life, to treat each other with dignity and respect, to acknowledge the sanctity of every human life. It takes both a personal and collective commitment to make liberty and justice for all work in real life.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy (kindness) and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

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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 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)

 I learned something this week (no snide comments needed): Don’t delay Granny when she is wanting to see her newborn grandson. I am telling you this is serious business. Who knew? And why wasn’t I told?

There is something incredibly amazing about holding a newborn baby. That totally helpless, completely dependent little person has already expanded history. He has grown the love of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and nephew. We, his family, have been entrusted with him, we bear lifelong responsibility towards him. It would be unthinkable to discard him, it would wrong not to love him, take care of him, meet his needs, have noble dreams for his future.

His little amazingness didn’t start at 5:30 AM on Monday morning. The Biologist, the theologian, modern medicine, and his parents all know when little Grady’s life began – the very instant he was conceived. He, like us, didn’t begin his life subhuman with a need to acquire humanness and personhood somewhere along the way. From the moment he was conceived, we, his parents, his family, his doctor, his community, his country never have had any legitimate freedom to see him and treat him as anything but a human being, a full member of the human race. We bear individual and collective responsibility to love him. The second greatest commandment of God has applied to Grady, and every other human being, from the moment his DNA fingerprint existed.

Someone challenged Jesus Christ on this demand of God for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), he asked in order “to justify himself.” Jesus’ reply was what is now known as the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Jesus made it plain that the man, a lawyer, was asking the wrong question. Wrong questions lead to wrong answers. Wrong questions are convenient when you want to skirt the real issues. According to God, to Jesus, “Am I a loving neighbor?” “Am I responding to people placed in front of me with compassion, with care, with mercy, with a willingness to take time, to meet their needs?” When you ask those questions the issues of inconvenience, disruption, bad timing, etc. go right out of the window. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” does not exclude pregnancy. In fact, no one will ever encounter a more vulnerable, dependent person than a child in the womb. That little girl’s or boy’s life depends on the mother keeping the second most important commandment, on his mother to love her/him as herself. It depends on us as a people to apply the same commandment to every human being, to ask the right questions, and to encourage and support every woman who choses love.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.
Matthew 2:13-16 (NLT)

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were political refugees. They had to pack up in the middle of the night and flee a violent madman named Herod, who had no regard for human rights. Among those he slaughtered were an untold number of babies in children in order to hang on power. What they needed was to be out of harm’s way, safety, protection, a place where the threat and violence could not reach them, a place where they no longer had to run. Luckily for Jesus and his parents Egypt did not have a closed door attitude and policy regarding Jewish refugees.

From the Roman perspective the Jews were a strange lot, with strange beliefs, odd practices, folks who created their own enclaves, who stuck together, and who didn’t integrate well. The place they called their homeland was a region of continual unrest, terrorism, and instability. And of course they were easy to blame for all kinds of things, it was easy to marginalize them, to reduce them to one lot, to make them an impersonal issue.

I wonder how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph thought and felt about refugees after they had been refugees themselves? When the topic came up in their home, in the carpenter shop, at the well, in the market, or on Saturday in the synagogue, what was their tone? What opinions did they hold and defend? What did they wish for, advocate for, and pray for regarding refugees? Because the things that we go through ourselves do shape us, do affect how we think and feel about them, and often make us more empathetic.

How many people helped Jesus, Mary, and Joseph along the way, during the time they were exiled in Egypt, the time they could not go back home? I am sure what the Wise Men gave them came in handy. But from my own experience of being an immigrant I know how much it means for people to reach out to you, to engage with you, to care about you, to help you, to be generous to you, to include you, to pray for you, to give you a chance. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all who have treated me that way, and I can’t help but think that Jesus and his parents felt the same.

How should the church, the organization Jesus started, the group of people he calls his body, think, feel, and act regarding refugees? What would he have us advocate, stand up for? How would he have us engage with those who are on the run, who can’t go back home, who are displaced by violence, politics, disasters, and economics? And where does the church get its cues to discern Jesus’, God’s (Jesus is God incarnate), opinion, heart, and directives? I believe the answer to that last question is: Through the Holy Spirit, through God’s written word (the Bible), through the example of Christ, and both through a willingness to follow where these lead us and to radically love.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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In the long-haul walls built by fear don’t work. The Great Wall of China in spite of being one of the Seven Wonders of the World never did do its job. The walls of Jericho offered no real protection. The wall Nehemiah rebuilt around Jerusalem boosted morale but did nothing to stop the tug of war carried out the great world powers in that territory. The Maginot line of defense didn’t stop Hitler for even a moment, he simply Blitzkrieged around it. The Berlin wall and the border fence separating East from West Germany failed to quench East Germans’ thirst for freedom, so they tore it down at the first real opportunity. Walls build by fear don’t work and it doesn’t matter whether or not they are made of concrete, or words of fear and hate, or usually both.

I am surprised how many Christians are answering the siren call for more walls, be it more prison walls, border fences, or rhetoric that keeps repeating the refrain of “let’s keep them out so we can be safe within.” But how much Concertina wire do we want, how high and thick do the walls need to be, and at what point do we end up imprisoned ourselves, both actually and in our mentality?

Christmas is just weeks away. Maybe we need to remember that God himself took on flesh to break down walls. Wall-building is the very antithesis of the reality of Christmas. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to liberate, to tear down walls that separate, to not be ruled by fear but by faith rooted in love, to help us escape from the inescapable walls our sins create, and to help us across the wall no one can leap over, death. Jesus came to reconcile and has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). As stewards of the Good News he has called us to concern ourselves not with how many we can keep out, but about how many we can bring in through the door of the cross.

Do we as Christians have to be afraid that our Heavenly Father is no longer capable of feeding us, the immigrants (both legal and illegal), and the refugees (for whose plight we are partially responsible) knocking at our door? Have we forgotten that, “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLT); that, “This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:19 (NLT); and that, Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me” Matthew 25:40 (HCSB)?

Before we give credence to the rhetoric of the those who constantly cry for more walls, before we attach ourselves to the political bandwagon of anyone who thinks wall building is a good idea, and before we repeat carefully crafted arguments for wall building rooted in patriotism or any other human rationale I am asking you to thoroughly examine the scriptures and let the word of God (the Bible, and specifically the New Testament) inform your opinions, your conversations, and your actions. “For he himself (Christ) is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” Ephesians 2:14-19 (NIV, parenthesis mine).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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