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Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (companion) who is just right for him (comparable to him).” … So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the LORD God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man. “At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’” Genesis 2:18, 21-23 (NLT, parenthesis MSG, NKJV)

 Adam was alone, not a single creature in all of creation could was found to be a suitable match for him, could be his equal and partner physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. God’s solution was to bless him with a woman who matched his flesh and bones, thrilled his mind and heart, and fulfilled his needs like no one else could. No wonder he shouted, “AT LAST, FINALLY!”

I wonder about Eve’s thoughts concerning what else came out of Adam’s mouth? Because it sure doesn’t sound very romantic. He clearly had given no thought to good conversation starters and pick-up lines. Maybe that is why she is called a “helper,”  Adam clearly needed help.

He obviously loved what he saw. In fact, he loved her so much he put her ahead of God (see Genesis chapter 2:16-17, 3:1-6). He might have been the first but certainly not the last man who did unwise and foolish things because of a woman. Agur the oracle listed, “How a man loves a woman (NLT),” among the things he couldn’t figure out, that defied his understanding. It is easy but always unwise and wrong to make your love your idol. It actually leads to brokenness instead of wholeness.

When you find the love of your life it should bring about three things:

  • You want it to last. Even two young teens in puppy-love dream of spending the rest of their lives together in wild bliss. The couple at the wedding altar make promises, “till death do us part.” The best way to make love last it learn to love like Christ, that’s why the Apostle Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her” Ephesians 5:25 (HCSB), and he encouraged spiritually mature women to teach younger women “how to love their husbands” (Titus 2:4).
  • Thanksgiving and praise to God. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” Proverbs 18:22 (ESV). “House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD” Proverbs 19:14 (ESV). “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” Proverbs 31:10 (ESV). A really good, prudent, wise, and excellent wife or husband is gift straight from God’s hands, a blessing from heaven.
  • Greater awareness and devotion to God. Few things we experience in life reveal more about God than marriage and family. They are his idea, they reflect things about the eternal love and relationship of the God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. They reveal to us much of what is on God’s heart for all of mankind and us personally. Jesus considers the church, the redeemed people of God, as his bride, Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness” Ephesians 5:25-27 (MSG, also Revelation 21:9).

 To sweet, godly, and enduring love. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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The ancient people of God, the chosen people of God, were commanded to:

  • Love God, Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1, 30:6, Joshua 23:11
  • Love their neighbor as themselves, Leviticus 19:18
  • Love the strangers and aliens as themselves, Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 10:19
  • Love good, Amos 5:15
  • Love kindness, Micah 6:8

Jesus, besides reaffirming the above added:

  • Love your enemies, Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36
  • “Love one another, as I have loved you,” John 15:12, 17, 1 Peter 2:17

The Apostles reaffirmed all the above and added:

  • “Let all be done in love,” 1 Corinthians 16:14
  • Speak truth in love, Ephesians 4:15
  • Love like Jesus, Ephesians 5:2
  • Love from a pure heart, 1 Timothy 1:5
  • Pursue love, 2 Timothy 2:22
  • Love your wife, husband, and children, Ephesians 5:25, 28, Titus 2;4
  • Add love to your faith, 2 Peter 1:7
  • “Keep yourselves in the love of God,” Jude 1:21 (which includes all the above and more)

What all these commandments assume is that we, you and I, 1. have a God-given capacity to love, 2. that we do not necessarily exercise this capacity, and 3. that in a large measure we will be judged, be held accountable for what we have done with our capacity to love.

Have you ever given God thanks for your ability to love, to love extraordinarily, to love like God, like Jesus? It is hands down one of the greatest gifts God has blessed us with. Exercising that gift makes us more like him than anything else, “When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us” 1 John 4:16 (MSG).

Wednesday is Valentine’s Day, it too reminds us of our capacity love (maybe we should close the divorce courts on the day celebrating love – just an idea). It reminds us that unleashing our love capabilities is beautiful, exciting, sweet, and feels incredibly right and good. And it and gets even better when the response is just as loving.

Would you take a moment and read over the God’s love commandments, I listed above, one more time? Did you notice that they were exclusive and inclusive at the same time, challenging to us to excel in the exclusive love relationships of life – God, spouse, children, friends; while at the same time not neglecting God’s insistence to engage with all people, neighbors, enemies, foreigners, strangers with love that is as strong, kind, merciful, generous, and continuous as the love we have for ourselves and as the love of Jesus.

Heavenly Father, God of love, help us, help me to grow in love, develop and unleash my capacity for love the way you command it, look for it, and enable it.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT)

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Galatians 6:4 (MSG)

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—
James 4:3a (NLT)

God hears and answers every prayer, but God does not grant every request. The student who fervently prays for God’s help to pass the upcoming major test yet spend the time s/he could have been studying playing video games, or binge-watching a favorite show, or simply farting around is probably best advised to spend whatever time is left studying instead of praying. The person foolishly wasting money and then pleading with God for a financial bailout might be better off enrolling in a money management course to change his/her habits than asking God to underwrite bad habits. The liar, the drama queen, the agitator, the hater, the cruel, the over-sensitive, the selfish or self-centered bugger praying for others to change and treat them nicer stands little chance for God granting them their request of exempting them from the consequences of their actions; what do you think?

There are things God will not support. I challenge you to take a moment and make a list of ten things you are pretty sure of that God will not support them. Ready?

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

Now use that list like a mirror, examine yourself against it, think about what you should do and how you should pray in light of your list.

I know for myself I don’t want God to shake his head and sigh because of the immaturity, the emptiness, the audacity, the twistedness, or the lack of Christlikeness of my prayers.  “… get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.  For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.  But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:21-25 (NLT)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

(Regardless of how much I pray, God, among other things, does not support: 1. Laziness, 2. Hatred, mismanaged anger, bitterness, 3. Revenge, 4. Disobedience, 5. Sin and wickedness, 6. Immorality, 7. Greed of all kinds, 8. Cruelty, 9. Injustice, 10. Selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-promotion, 11. Foolishness, 12. Dishonesty, 13. Unforgiveness, 14. Pride, hubris, arrogance, 15. Praising yourself, 16 Gloating over the fall of enemies, 17. Lawlessness, 18. Lack of love, mercy, grace, and kindness, 19. Idolatry of any kind, 20. Neglecting to do good and help when and wherever we can, 21. Dishonoring Jesus Christ, 22. Misusing his name, 22. Empty spirituality, 23. Foolishness of all kinds, 24. Transgressing his commandments, ways, and principles, 25. Apathy, ….)

 

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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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Of Wind, Fear, Ignorance, and Hard-hearted Christians

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them,  but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out,  for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:47-52 (ESV)

Jesus’ followers, his disciples, Christians are supposed to have growing, tender, compassionate, merciful, and visionary hearts and minds, but the disciples’ hearts “were hardened,” their understanding was lacking. Why?

  1. The winds were contrary – Giving in

It is frustrating when you are rowing for hours and aren’t getting anywhere, when you get blown backwards the second you relax. We live in times of   contrary winds, in constant gusts of fear, terror, senselessness, corruption, and violence. It is easy to have your heart grow hard there, to simply give   yourself over to the direction of the winds of our times, to be swept up by nationalism, racism, extremism, or escapism and apathy.

  1. They saw a “ghost” – Returning to old scripts and ways

They went right back to thinking and reacting like they would have before they met Jesus, to who they were and believed before they responded to   Jesus’ call to follow him. They returned to their version of syncretism, their preferred spiritual drink made up of the religion they were raised in, their       cultural superstitions, and their personal fears. Just like us, they chucked all they knew about Jesus, all he had taught them, all the experiences they had with him, the moment something looked and felt frightening. I am amazed at how many of my brothers and sisters and Christ are falling headlong to         the frightening things of our day, to the rhetoric of fear, to the thinking we have to old onto all that is dear to us before we lose it all and in the process have no vision and hunger for Christ’s kingdom, which is marked by love, justice, life, and all things of eternal value. Jesus first words to his tired,             frustrated, and frightened disciples was, “It’s me! Don’t be afraid.”

  1. They did not understand – they had not learned from the past

They failed to connect what Jesus had just demonstrated to them earlier in the day to their present situation, to their fears, and to override their old    ways of seeing and responding to things. They really did not understand, but Jesus thought they should have. Christians should know by now that    the results are disastrous, bloody, cruel, and outright evil when nationalism, racism, atheism, and extremism is let out of the box, even, or especially, if it is mixed with a little Bible. They should have known that     Jesus could and would take care of them that they had nothing to fear, that he who sent them to go across the lake would also get them there regardless of the winds, regardless of their fears, and regardless of how difficult things were.

So how are the winds of our time affecting you my brothers and sisters in Christ? How filled with fear, trepidation, and negativity are you? Which voices are you listening to, who has your ear? Are you applying the lessons Jesus has taught you in both life and the scriptures to the present, to your fears, to the current issues, to your politics, to your engagement with our world as a servant of Jesus? Or are you adjusting scripture to accommodate your easier sailing, to give your fears free reign, to excuse your negativity, to settle for something less than Christ’s kingdom, to justify the unjust, to mix the drink you like and have always liked? Is your understanding of Christ and his kingdom (rule) growing, is your heart growing softer?

Regardless of the frightening winds of our time Jesus still says to us, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Go ahead, click on the picture icon on your built in computer, called your mind. Then click on the folder “Favorite People.” I am willing to bet that the faces in this file bring a smile to your face, that they cause your heart to feel good, that you are grateful these people are part of life, are stuck in your memory.

You probably have different reasons for filing these people in this file. Maybe you put them there because they made you laugh a lot, or maybe because they helped you, or because they influenced you in a positive way. Maybe they stuck with you when you were struggling, messed up, or were an outright jerk. Maybe it was their generosity, their kindness, or their goodness. Maybe it was their quirkiness, their spunk, their imagination, their courage, or their humility that made you decide to stick them in your “Favorite People” folder. Maybe you didn’t even make a conscious choice to stick them there and they just somehow invaded, somehow just showed up in this most precious file. But no matter how or why they got there you are grateful that they are there.

Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers,” is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (1:2 MSG). That lets you know where Paul filed these folks in his heart and mind, doesn’t it, because there are two groups of people we think about and pray about more than anyone else: 1. Those dearest to us, and 2. Those we dread and struggle with the most. Clearly the Apostle counted the Thessalonians in the first group and lucky for us he tells us how they ended up in his “Favorite” folder. He highlighted:

  • Their “work of faith” (1:3), their faith in action, that they didn’t just sit around talking spiritual but acted like Jesus would act. People like that are real.
  • Their “labor of love” (1:3), which implies both the right actions and the right motivation. People like that are like a breath of fresh air.
  • Their “endurance inspired by hope” (1:3 NIV), which lets us know that they weren’t quitters, they knew how to grind it out and stay positive and hopeful at the same time. People like that are inspiring.
  • Their willingness to change and grow (1:6 & 9), they didn’t adapt God to their wants, customs, values, and comfort level but let God shape them through the Holy Spirit, the message of God’s word, and the example of Paul. People like that are rare.
  • Their willingness to take on responsibility to be both godly/Christlike examples and to be messengers of the Gospel of Christ (1:7-8). They laid things on the line in word and deed. People like that are encouraging.

It’s no wonder why they ended up being among Paul’s “Favorites.”

What remains for you and me is to figure out why the Holy Spirit/God had Paul record this, why this was preserved for us to read? May you and I become “Favorites,” reasons for joyful remembrance, the content of thankful prayers, and inspirations to follow Jesus for all the right reasons.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Salvation without transformation is misinformation that results in damnation.

If your house has termites how many of them do want to be gone, for how many do you pay the exterminator to get rid off? How much of the termite damage do you want your contractor to fix? I imagine your answers were, “All of the termites and all of the damage.”

If you were to get sprayed by a skunk (and I have), how much of that foul smell does your spouse want you to wash off before coming to bed? I imagine your answer would be, “All of it, and make sure you put on a hefty dose of cologne.”

How much of our sin, our depravity, our moral and spiritual rot and filth do you think God’s grace is trying to address? How deep do you think the grace of God is trying to sink into our hearts and lives? How much does God’s grace want to change in us and about us? The answers to these questions are, “All of it, to my very core, and more than I imagine.”

The grace of God aims to be transforming. There is no way to drink from the cup of God’s grace and be unchanged. If you remain unchanged you haven’t swallowed. As James puts it, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), meaning: you can’t believe in the love, grace, and mercy of God (salvation) and live unchanged.” If the love of Christ has touched us it compels us to love. If our sins are forgiven we should be forgiving. If we have received mercy it should make us merciful. If the joy of God and his salvation has filled us we should be joyful and positive. If the goodness of God is real it should cause us to desire to do good. If the peace of God keeps our hearts and minds we should pursue peace. If we have benefited from the patience of God we should be patient with others. If the selflessness, the obedience, the faithfulness, the kindness, and humility of Jesus has in any way worked in our favor then we ought to embrace the same.

Somehow we are very comfortable with saving grace, who doesn’t want to go heaven? We love the everyday grace of God, the grace that makes the sun rise, the rains fall, puts bread on our tables, and gives us opportunities in life (Matthew 5:45). We don’t complain about delivering grace, healing grace, God-helping-me out grace, that would be foolish. But how quickly we begin to resist transforming grace, when God wants to replace more than a few roof shingles, when he starts scraping off old paint, lays bare the rot, starts messing with our values, our outlooks, our attitudes, the way we react and interact, and puts our motives, our pursuits, and lifestyles on the table.

After following Jesus for almost forty years I still find surrendering to God’s transforming grace most challenging. I am amazed and ashamed how resistant I can be, how many self-deceptive excuses I can conjure up, how quickly I can deflect, and how disobedient I can be. I pray to be like the Apostle Paul, after having an opportunity to tell king Agrippa of his conversion, of the time when the saving grace of Christ met him, quickly added, “So … I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19 NASB). What a statement of surrender to transforming grace.

When it comes to transforming grace we face a triple threat:

  • All of our old scripts, the defaults of our sinful self. O how good they are in pulling us back, helping us to revert, to revel in saving grace while resisting transforming grace.
  • Declaring ourselves changed enough, holy enough. Resting on past progress and viewing ourselves in comparison to others has a way of making us resistant to present obedience.
  • Thinking of grace only in passive terms, God saves me by his grace, God will change me by his grace, and finally God will glorify me his grace. That however is not the whole truth; God’s saving grace compels us to believe, to repent, to confess, God’s glorifying grace is preceded by perseverance, and God’s transforming grace requires our cooperation and obedience.

Read the first sentence again. None of us needs just a little bit of Jesus, a little bit grace, we need all of Christ and all of God’s grace, anything less is self-deception, will make us pull up short of God’s marvelous grace (Hebrews 12:15). On the flipside, there is nothing like being transformed by God’s grace, We all … are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (HCSB).

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

 

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