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Parts that do their part – beautiful

At the end of a movie do you linger and watch the credits? I usually don’t, but the few times that I have I was amazed at how many people it takes to make a movie. You need a lot more than just actors, directors, and writers. You need cameramen, makeup artists, bookkeepers, sound people, boom operators, special effects experts, stuntmen, wardrobe designers, set designers, logistics personnel, grunts, lot’s of grunts, electricians, carpenters, caterers, production people, and … No wonder movie making is expensive.

Take a look around, yup, right there wherever you are reading this, and think about all the things you see and how many people had to work together to make them and how many people it took for them to get to you. How many designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, workers, sales people, and … were involved?

Have you ever been wheeled into an operating room and managed to look around before the anesthesiologist told you to count backward from ten, and in my case knocked me out before I got to seven. From what I remember, it is a like beehive in there. Long before my doctor and his team ever got there someone had to get everything clean and ready. He wouldn’t do much operating if he had to do all the cleaning and prepping himself.

Every Christian is meant to serve on Christ’s ministry team from first the day s/he committed her/his life to Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV); it doesn’t matter who you are, where you have come from, or how gifted, educated or skilled you are, from the day a person is born again (John 3:1-21) by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ s/he is a part of the body of Christ, and thus has a function. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” Romans 12:4-11 (NLT).

You won’t be in the movie credits, you won’t be part of any manufacturing team for long, and you won’t stay on the operating room staff if you don’t show up faithfully and if you don’t do what you are responsible for. You will be a mess if your body parts are mere volunteers and not committed members who delight in doing what they are supposed to do for the benefit of all the others. Serving in the body of Christ is much more than volunteering, it is about each part doing what the head, Jesus (Colossians 1:18), wants his body to do, and when Jesus’ body moves as one, doing what he wants, it is a beautiful thing.

So show up, be committed, be dependable, do your part.

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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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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Making our way around Glasgow I couldn’t help but be reminded of Christianity’s powerful past influence, the effects of John Knox and the Reformation, and the wealth generated by the British empire and the industrial revolution. Large, imposing church structures still dot the skyline. An enormous statue of John Knox dominates the “Necropolis”, a Victorian era cemetery that is like nothing I had ever seen.

On Sunday morning we worshiped with a Baptist congregation around the corner from where we were staying. They had just finished their version of Vacation Bible School, and the place was packed. That afternoon we toured the Glasgow Cathedral. The sound of the mighty pipe organ and a small choir filled the place. They were practicing for the regular afternoon service about to start. We sat down to worship there as well.

Everything about a cathedral makes you feel small, the sheer size of the structure, the front doors, the pillars, the high ceilings, the booming sound of the organ demanding you to listen. The stained-glass windows are tall spectacles of color, telling stories, filling the room with light from above. They are placed high on the walls, keeping you from looking out, or even looking around, but drawing to look up.

I loved sitting there, listening, hearing the Scripture read, joining in the singing, feeling small, reminded of the majesty of God and that he dwells in a “Cathedral” (Temple) not made by human hand (Acts 17:24). It was also strange. Strange because only a few people present in the cathedral bothered to sit down, were interested in worship. All through the service tourists scuttled about, admiring what man had built, without thought for whom and what is built.

A number of these old church structures no longer house a congregation. One of them had been converted to a bar and restaurant, another housed a mosque, one was a visitor center, and some stood empty. This is not only true of Glasgow but all around Europe and the United States, and it saddens me. Yes, these structures are enormously expensive to maintain, the old pews or chairs are really uncomfortable, and they make you feel small, even insignificant. But they used to house congregations who met there to worship, to hear the word of God, to pray.

It is not only the buildings that are difficult to maintain. In fact, they still stand long after the congregations that inhabited them have died. The fellowship, the spiritual family, the people who constitute a church, who are a living expression of the body of Jesus Christ, are a much more fragile thing. Living things are generally more fragile than wood and stone. This is why the Gospels, every letter, and all the authors of the New Testament remind us to diligently maintain the faith and the community of faith, to strive and work together for the glory of God, to build up the body of Christ, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, to practice holiness, to engage in spiritual accountability, to encourage, care for, and love each other. Our experience of coming together, of being the church, should cause members and visitors alike to look up, to be humbled, to worship.

 “I (Paul), … beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” Ephesians 4:1-6 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)

Our asking depends on our thinking, and our thinking is influenced by all kinds of factors. But generally we don’t ask beyond what our minds conceive is possible, legitimate, necessary, or even impossible. Maybe you are blessed with a mind that thinks audaciously big, but even it has a limit. Sometimes desperation makes us cry out for and wish for what our minds deem impossible, and still our minds paint a picture of what that looks like.

All too often we are beset with smallness of mind, so we don’t bother to even ask, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” James 4:2b (NIV). Of course some have no room for any notion of the reality of God, this too is a smallness of mind that shuts the door on all kinds of possibilities, and certainly to ask him for anything.

The harnessing of power has been an ongoing pursuit of mankind; we are much better at it than we are submitting to power. Yet, in spite of many incredible advances the gap between God’s power and ours has not narrowed, God still “is able to far more abundantly than all we ask or think.” All the additions to our knowledge, skills, and abilities has not negated our need for God, for what he knows, what he is capable of. Our minds cannot even conceive his eternal power, knowledge, and wisdom, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV). “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’”— 1 Corinthians 2:9 (ESV).

Have you ever thought that God is not doing enough, both in general and for you specifically? This too is evidence of our smallness of thinking, as well as a considerable amount of hubris. It implies that God somehow is delinquent, that he somehow is misusing his power, that he fails to use his knowledge, his wisdom, and his power appropriately and timely. When we do so we forget that we owe our very existence to the application of God’s greatness, goodness, and power.

The verses that began this pastor’s note are part of prayer the Apostle Paul prayed for believers at Ephesus and Asia Minor. He wanted them and us to know God more, to love him more, to experience his greatness ever more, to grow beyond the smallness of ourselves and our thinking and to rely on him who is so great, so incomprehensible, so magnificent that he truly is worthy of all glory for all generations.

May God grant Paul’s request in regard to you and me, to live beyond what we can ask or think, ever thirsty for God to reveal more of himself and Christ.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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We not Me is what Jesus prayed for all those who would trust him for salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, for those who would believe in him, follow him, and be identified with him, for all who claim to be Christian, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” John 17:9-11, 20-23 (ESV)

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we see for the first time what the “we” the “one” Jesus prayed for looks like, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to (the) fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had” Acts 2:41-44 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

A Christian who claims the “me” is enough ignores what Jesus prayed for all those who follow him. Someone who does not belong to local expression of the body of Christ, a local church and does not participate in its life practices the opposite of what Christians did from the very beginning. A believer who does not love the church does not love what Christ loves, “… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25 (ESV). God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” Ephesians 3:10-11 (NIV). And Jesus made it plain that in living out the “we” we become properly identified as his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:35 (NIV).

Being a ‘spiritual house” and a “holy priesthood” is a “we” concept “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NKJV). A belief in Christ’s return and a coming judgment should cause us to an increasing embrace of the “we”, a greater connection to Christ’s fellowship, a growing desire to worship, pray, serve, and torbe together, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV). Did you notice all of the “we”, “us”, and ”one another” in that last scripture? So what is your habit when comes to the “we” of being a Christian? Are you, a “living stone”, cemented together with other “living stones” in the community where God has placed you? Does your commitment to Christ and his fellowship encourage others? Does your involvement with Christ’s church make it stronger? O how I hope it does.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Personality cults, immoral behavior and its acceptance, civil lawsuits, wild church services, making a mess out of communion, not grasping what church is, spiritual gifts misunderstanding and abuse, reliance on human wisdom above Gods’ word, a me first mentality, and major doctrinal confusion is what you would have found in the church of Corinth. The Apostle Paul wrote a lengthy letter to address and correct this collective ball of worms of Christian error and misbehavior eating holes all through the fabric of the Corinthian church, and continues to do so to the body of Christ even today.

There are four root causes to church messes:

#1. Sign seeking (1 Cor. 1:22-25) – Every church has sign seekers, those who think a powerful and hopefully miraculous experience will bring about strong and devotion to Christ, and at the same time prove their spiritual superiority. It’s a dead end. It has never worked, if it had then the Israelites who walked through the parted Red Sea would have been one of the most devoted and spiritual people who ever lived. But just week’s later the thrill had worn off and they danced and partied away from the God of the ten plagues, of the parted sea, of marvelous provision, and of fearsome glory, and exchanged him for a molten calf crafted from their own earrings.

#2. Human wisdom enthusiasm (1 Cor. 1:22, 30, 2:1-13) – Every church has them as well, those who overestimate our immense capacity for reason, for science, for rationality. Unchecked this capacity coupled with human depravity leads to the kind of pride that dismisses the supernatural, doubts the wisdom and promises of God’s word, and dares to dismantle God himself. There is no less pride to be found here than in sign seeking, it simply exchanges pride in a portfolio of experiences for walls lined with books. Ultimate, eternal, and saving wisdom cannot be found even in the best and most brilliant efforts of the depraved human mind and spirit but only through God revealing himself, supremely through Christ, and our submission to his revelation.

#3. Living according what is “Natural,” according to the “Flesh” (1 Cor. 2:14-16) – This is a temptation to all believers; it assumes that one can believe in Christ and not change. It believes that Christ is good for salvation but we are sufficient for Christian ethics, Christian morality, and Christian behavior in and of ourselves. This discounts the depth of human depravity, overestimates our capacity for goodness, orients itself too much on what we are accustomed to and what our culture deems right, and leads to constant conflict because everyone needs to agree with me or else they are wrong.

#4. Spiritual Immaturity (1 Cor. 3:1-20) – In some ways this is an outgrowth of #1, 2, and 3, but it is root of its own. Maturity is never automatic, if it was then parenting is a waste of time, as would be books about character building, seminars on values, and the study of history. Maturity is acquired, learned, and practiced, it doesn’t show up overnight. Maturity submits itself to wisdom, knowledge, values, habits, thinking, and ways that are mature. Christian maturity does not form itself through extraordinary experience, or through great human wisdom and intelligence, or through innate humanness or cultural superiority, no Christian maturity is based on a faith submission to the written revelation of God, the Scriptures, the Bible. In doing so the spiritual maturity Paul speaks of does not discount the power of God to do the miraculous,  neither does it put the mind out of gear, nor does it diminish our capacity to find wisdom, but it does not trust any on their own and so submits all of them to the eternal counsel of God’s word.

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”– 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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