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VISION 2020: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR!

All kinds of new laws went into effect today, January 1, 2020, fewer restrictions on marijuana, no hair discrimination in the workplace, the Real ID Security Act, the California Consumers Privacy Act, … Not that they are all bad or not needed, laws do have to keep up with changes, should strive for greater justice, protect freedom, and help us to function as a society.

Romans 13 – is my New Year’s reading recommendation for you. It has everything in it to cheer you up: Governmental authority and leaders, taxes, rendering honor, and to top it all off, not getting drunk and going wild partying. Just exactly what you need to hear on one of the great hangover days of the year.

In the middle of Romans 13, you will find an old law that should never come off the books, “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’ These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law’” Romans 13:8-10 (NLT2).  All of God’s laws in regard to our interactions with others, concerning how to function as people and peoples have as their foundation “love your neighbor as yourself.” According to James, this is the highest, most supreme, “royal” law (James 2:8). The only greater law is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Of course, because of our broken, narcissistic, sinful hearts, we read this outstanding law of “love your neighbor as yourself” and immediately make it about us, our need to love ourselves first, think of ourselves first, our own needs, our own limitations… But did you notice? This supreme command is about love lived out in concrete actions, specifically self-denying actions, that benefit our neighbor most of all. According to God’s wisdom, this forms the very bedrock of living together in harmony, peace, kindness, and prosperity.

We are not living in a time when “loving your neighbor as yourself” is all of the sudden more important than it has been at any other time in history, but we are living in a time when loving yourself, your own group, your own people, is what comes first, the mantra drowning out the two most important and beneficial laws of human existence, interaction, and thriving, the most critical rules when it comes being and acting in the image of God (Genesis1:26).

2020 needs you and me to love our neighbor as God intended and like our world and future depend on it.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

P.S. Maybe you are asking a question asked before, “Who is my neighbor?” For an answer read Luke 10:25-37.

 

 

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There was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”
This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
John 2:1-11 (NLT2)

You are probably familiar with the experience of running out of something, I sure am. I have run out of gasoline, money, food, water, cookies, whipped cream (Oh No!), prescription medicine, fishing bait, nails, and various other building materials, know-how, wisdom, options, excuses (probably a good thing) patience, tears, laughter, strength, kindness, time, and …

They’d served it all up, all the amphoras (think cases of bottles) were empty, not a drop of wine to be found. Even the water had run out. This party was going to end quickly. Funny how important food and drink are to keep a party going.

If you are familiar with running out of something, you are most likely also acquainted with the stress of running out. It is stressful to see your gas gauge flirting with “E” (for empty) and the next filling station miles away. It is even more stressful to actually run out and be stranded by the road with your little kids, who have already drained their bottles and Sippy-cups.

Since you are familiar with running out, you know it is also embarrassing. It is humiliating to be at the grocery checkout and what is in your wallet won’t cover what you have in your cart forcing you to take stuff out in front of your kids and the other folks in line. This under-planned and under-funded wedding was going to be the talk and laughter of the town and the horror story for all future weddings in Cana to avoid.

Jesus’ Mom caught it, while others were sipping the last of the wine she noticed the stress of the wedding planner, his forced smile, his whispers to the parents of the bride and groom. Some are much better at noticing people who have or are running out. Notice, she also didn’t snap a picture and pushed “send” to start the gossip. Instead, she turned to and inconvenienced Jesus for help. She knew he cares about people who are stressed, who are embarrassed, who are panicking, who are at their wit’s end, who have run out.

If you’ve run out, bring your empty to Jesus and follow his instructions, today.

If you see someone who’s run out and only God can fill this, take him, take her, with his or her empty to Jesus, today.

If you run into someone who has an empty and you can help fill it, be an extension of Jesus and follow his example and instructions, today.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Eight glasses of water? Four cups of coffee? A pot of tea? Several energy drinks? A two-liter bottle of Coke? A six-pack of beer? It doesn’t matter how much you drank yesterday, you will be thirsty again today.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a few snacks. Cereal, sandwiches, wraps, burritos, burgers and fries, TV-dinners, salads, steak and potatoes, barbeque, gourmet creations? It doesn’t matter how much you ate yesterday, you will be hungry today.

Yesterday’s peace-offerings, compromises, political arrangements, concessions, sacrifices, wise arrangements, handouts, freebies, none of them will satisfy for long. The cry for more, for change, for “my/our” way now, will return.

It reveals our brokenness, this insatiability, this inability to sustain life, happiness, justice, and peace for any length of time. It reveals our sinfulness, our constant complaining and bickering even when things are going great and we have more than enough, our willingness to mistreat, rob, roll over, treat others unjustly in the pursuit of our needs, appetites, wants, and dreams, our short-lived gratitude or outright ungratefulness.

We are always running out, constantly having to refill, never having enough, unable to lay hold of what is lasting. We can’t make anything last, much less make it eternal, beginning with satisfying our most basic needs and those of our neighbor.

“Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” Mark 15:15 (ESV). It worked for less day, then they were back asking for more (Matthew 27:62-65)

Solomon in his pursuit of pleasure, status, and empire-building amassed for himself what might have been the largest harem in history (1 Kings 11:3) and yet, he advised his sons, Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” Proverbs 5:18-19 (ESV).

Haman had a thriving career, wealth, influence, and power, but his anti-Semitism, his hatred left him continually dissatisfied,  “All this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” Esther 5:13 (ESV).

Achan, rummaging through the rubble after the victory at Jericho, took what God had declared as belonging to him,  when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath” Joshua 7:21 (ESV). It didn’t matter that he was on his way to receive his portion in the land God had promised them. His greed and covetousness, a bottomless pit, became a snare to him and his family.

Jesus warned the rich, fat, happy, and-self-sufficient Christians of Laodicea, “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” Revelation 3:17-18 (ESV). They were so deceived by their prosperity and self-sufficiency that they were blind and oblivious to any reality outside their own happiness, that none of it would last, their spiritual needs, and that they lived like they didn’t need God. Jesus said, “You’re leaving a bad taste in my mouth, I am ready to spit you out!” – Ouch!

The only one who can satisfy the thirsts of our souls both now and for eternity. Jesus told a Samaritan woman who had come to get water from the local well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” John 4:13-14 (NIV). You and I are no different from her, from the crowd Pilate tried to appease, from Solomon and his sexual desires, or Haman and his hate, Achan and his covetousness and greed, or the spoiled and oblivious Laodiceans. Our greatest need is God, the life that is found only in Christ, the forgiveness poured out in Jesus death, the wholeness of our souls brought about by the water offered from Jesus’ hands.

So, reach out your cup, let Christ fill it.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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“And they cast lots for them …” Acts 1:26 (ESV)

They set some criteria, prayed, and drew straws. If you are a church-going person, I imagine, you would be fairly familiar and comfortable with the first two in making a decision or appointing the right person for a leadership position. But then to wrap it up and make it official by drawing a name out of a hat?

Maybe you need a little more information on what happened there at the First Church of Jerusalem? Jesus had chosen twelve Apostles. One of them, Judas Iscariot, turned on him, betrayed him, and killed himself. This left a vacancy and they needed a replacement. Peter, himself being an Apostle, brought up the issue to the whole church (a congregation of about 120 faithful believers). The replacement candidate needed to meet certain criteria which qualified two people. So, who should they pick? That’s when they prayed, asking God to make his will clear to them, and then drew lots to decide between the two.

Do you think it would’ve been better for them to have a vote? Maybe not. Think about it, drawing names took all the politics out of the decision, no personal preferences or connections coming into play, no election winners and losers, and no blaming if the person made mistakes afterward.

What is equally interesting is that they only asked who qualified. They didn’t say, “All who qualify and want to, please raise your hand.” Whoever qualified, their names went into the hat. Keep in mind that this appointment would radically alter the life of the one chosen, they were conferring major and life-long responsibility. It seems, they considered the will of God and the need of the body of Christ (the church) as vastly more important than the personal implications for those who qualified. I dare say this is neither lukewarm Jesus-following nor casual church-membership. Makes me think of what Winfield S. Weeden penned, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give.”

“And the lot fell to Matthias, …” We are not told how he felt about it. For us, in our culture, in our day how we feel about it is important, so important that it is major criteria in our decision making, in what we are willing or unwilling to do. Maybe, this is why we struggle so often with our lot in life. How do we have to feel about the will of God before it is right? Before we are willing to embrace it? Matthias obviously thought the will of God and the need of Jesus love (the church, Ephesians 5:24) were much more important than his feelings, his fears, his reservations, his preferences, and his plans.

“Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus …” the other qualified candidate wasn’t chosen. He had three names; seems like he was better known, maybe more popular. The lot didn’t ask about his feelings either. No word on how he took it, how he felt about it, but we do not hear about any stink following Matthias’ appointment, no jealousy, no bitterness, no complaining. What we do know is that he was willing, that the will of God and Jesus’ church were so important to him that he did not shrink back from what God wanted and the church needed.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t live another week with hardness of heart.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Mercy needs time. Being merciful requires, besides compassion and action, time. Those who need mercy today need both someone who will show mercy and time. All who are crying out for mercy around the world, the aliens, refugees, oppressed, mistreated, those deprived of justice, those who’ve made mistakes, and those who are repenting of wickedness and evil, are also hoping for time. Enough time for things to change, time for life to be better, time to have another chance to be better. The dilemma is that the very time those crying out for mercy need also gives evil, evildoers, corruption, and sin more time.

When it comes to mercy, Jesus left no doubt as to how he, God, wants us to function in time. He commands us to be merciful, expects us to be merciful, and blesses us when we are merciful, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” Luke 6:36 (NIV); Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” Matthew 5:7 (NIV). He wants you and me to become answers to those crying for mercy. He wants us to be the men and women who understand and live James’ point, Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” James 2:12-13 (HCSB).

It would be a grave mistake to conclude that since mercy triumphs over judgment that judgment has been rendered obsolete and is abolished. Mercy is not mercy if leads to a perversion of justice, the abolishment of judgment, “… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” Hebrews 9:27-28 (ESV). The cross of Christ is both the most merciful and the most just act in all of history. It did not bypass the justice of God but rather satisfied it completely and doing so it enables the mercy of God to save even the worst sinner.

However, mercy does not buy evil, wickedness, and sin unlimited time. It does grant a sinner time to repent and in doing so give him or her a chance to do even more evil, but it will also not ignore the cries of those suffer that evil. The evil doers and merciless who died comfortably in their plush beds will not escape justice, “God has warned us that he’ll hold us to account and make us pay. He was quite explicit: ‘Vengeance is mine, and I won’t overlook a thing,’ and, ‘God will judge his people.’ Nobody’s getting by with anything, believe me”
Hebrews 10:30-31 (MSG); “… the day of the Lord (the day of God’s judgment, of Christ’s return) will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.  … “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled”
1 Thessalonians 5:6 (NIV, parenthesis mine).

Today is a day of mercy, a great day to respond to God’s mercy, a terrific day to be merciful. Today is also a day God in his mercy has said to many, “Your time is up, time for judgment.” Only believing in and following Christ will prepare you for that day.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:35-36 (ESV)

Mercy does give second chances but it does not abolish judgment or pervert justice, nor does mercy ignore what is wise and prudent. If you are familiar with the Bible (God’s written revelation) you know that God pushed the reset button on the human race once. Before he flooded the earth in the days of Noah people lived incredibly long lives, but, The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil… I have decided to destroy all living creatures, for they have filled the earth with violence’” Genesis 6:5, 13 (NLT2). However, the judgment God announced to Noah did not come for many years, years which God gave to Noah and his family to construct an ark (ship) and to preach to everyone the impending judgment and how to escape it (2 Peter 2:5). God in his mercy gave time for people to hear the truth and to repent, he “patiently waited” (1 Peter 3:20), but he also stayed true his word. Then, after the flood, God limited the human life-span to around 70 to 120 years (Genesis 6:3, Psalm 90:10); and, history has proven that we are capable of doing plenty of evil and violence in that time frame. There is a line when mercy becomes merciless. Giving a wicked man or woman a chance to repent and change is mercy, allowing him or her to go on and on enables him or her and is anything but being merciful to the victims. In fact, there are many instances when 70 to 120 years seems far too long to us.

God has set a cutoff time for each one of us, “And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment” Hebrews 9:27 (HCSB). And, God has set a final cutoff point for all of humanity and evil (2 Peter 3:3-18, Revelation 20:7-15). In the meantime God is amazingly merciful and confusingly merciful, seemingly giving evil and violence far too long a leash, far too much opportunity, giving people too much time to do unspeakable wrong. But, O how glad and grateful I am for every chance, for every opportunity his mercy has afforded me.

How are you responding to the mercy of God giving you time and opportunity? Are you taking that time and opportunity to enable you in your selfishness, your sinfulness, and wickedness? Or, are you the time and opportunity God’s mercy gives you to repent, to do good, to honor God, and to be prepared for the judgment? Your clock is running.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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