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Archive for the ‘mercy’ Category

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

If you were in the direct path of a category 5 hurricane and someone told of a way to keep you, your family, and your neighbors completely save, would you pay attention? If that person told you that you not to board up the house but instead have a barbeque with some very specific ingredients and instructions, would you take her serious, or would you politely smile and get the plywood, hammer, and nails?

A spiritual storm was brewing in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had turned on people they once had invited, the Hebrews. Their solution was to oppress this growing minority who was threating to dilute all things Egyptian, so they reduced them to the status of slaves. What the Egyptians didn’t know was that God, for reasons only known to himself, has a special place in his heart for the Hebrews and for all who are oppressed. When the Hebrews demanded liberty, the right to leave, Pharaoh and the Egyptian leadership balked and cracked down harder. Even repeated calamities (known as the 10 plagues) that were unquestionably by the hand of God did not soften their hearts and change their minds and policies. (I wonder what kind of spiritual and political stubbornness, directly opposed to God’s will, besets you and me?) The last of the 10 judgments was that God would strike every male firstborn in Egypt dead. I wonder if the Egyptian leaders laughed in disbelief when Moses announced it to them. After all, how could that possibly happen? I wonder what the Hebrews thought when Moses told them of both the judgment and the only way to escape it. Which brings us back to the barbeque, better known as the Passover (Exodus 12).

Passover is so called because those who observed the first Passover where kept save from the judgment of the death of the firstborn, the angels dispatched to carry out this particular judgment “passed over” every home with the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorjamb and lintel. Besides slaughtering, grilling, and eating sheep or goat yearling, they were also supposed to bake only unleavened bread, and supposed to be ready and dressed to leave Egypt for good. Every Passover since recalls and remembers this event, and that in the wake of it the Egyptians finally relented and let Hebrews leave.

So, what did this have to do with Corinthians Christians (Greeks) 1500 years later, and how is this relevant to you and me 3500 years later? The greatest storm, the final calamity, the full judgment of God regarding all mankind, including you and me, is still to come, and we only have this life to prepare for it. There is no second chance after the night of death, “the day of the Lord?” We like the ancient Hebrews need both liberation and protection from God’s judgment, we need to leave the land of slavery and journey into God’s promises. Sin will not release its slaves voluntarily and God’s judgment will not just arbitrarily pass us by, we need salvation. Without the blood of Jesus Christ, the unblemished sinless lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, without his blood applied to the doorposts of our lives, we will not survive when God will summon the living and the dead before his throne of judgment. The ancient Passover points to the ultimate Passover, Jesus Christ.

So, in the ancient Passover the lamb is Jesus, the blood is his, the bread without leaven, Christ the sinless one. We are the ones dressed to journey, ready to live by faith, willing to trust the word and promises of God, leaving sin (leaven) and its slavery behind, ready to build a different kind of world, one that reflects the rulership, the holiness, and the heart of God.

You would think that all of this is a no brainer, but it wasn’t for the ancient Egyptians, nor was it for the Hebrews, or us today. The Egyptians hung on to their gods, even when they were exposed as impotent and dead idols, just like we hang on to our own beliefs and opinions. The Hebrews constantly wanted to go back, they wanted something less challenging than a life of faith, even if it meant slavery. The Corinthians divorced religious ritual from affecting real life, they hung the traveling clothes in the closet and sang to Jesus while being morally corrupt gorging on leavened bread. And then of course there is us, you and me. What is, and what will be your Passover reality?

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

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How much can one story change things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Want to do something that is really good for you? Practice kindness, “A man (person) who is kind benefits himself but a cruel man hurts himself” Proverbs 11:17 (ESV, parenthesis mine.)

Anything make you grumpy? Susie’s dog continually chewing up irrigation lines instantly wakens my inner grump. Somebody treating me like I don’t have a brain has their finger on my grumpy switch. Whining, constant negativity, laziness, stupidity, action-less complaining creates this fast spinning, downward sucking whirl, at the bottom of which my inner grump dwells. Just thinking about what makes me grumpy makes me grumpy. I wish my list was shorter.

The absence of kindness, grumpiness unchecked and excused, is the dance floor of cruelty. Cruel words, cruel intentions, cruel actions, and cruel laws execute fancy choreography dressed in self-righteous clothes, hollow justifications, damning humor, cutting sarcasm, intellectual hubris, and stubborn ignorance. It is a short and crowded walk from grumpiness to cruelty.

Kindness contains mercy and mercy is never without kindness, they benefit both the giver and the recipient, in other words they are always a win win proposition. On the other hand no one really benefits from grumpiness and cruelty, they always injure everybody. This is why Jesus and the scriptures unequivocally and uncompromisingly tell us, encourage us, and command us to unilaterally practice kindness and mercy (Galatians 5:22; 2 Peter 1:7; Matthew 5:&; 2 Timothy 2:24; Proverbs 3:3, 19:22). We are to practice kindness not merely in response to kindness coming our way, no, we are to be kind and merciful (Ephesians 4:32) and have kindness and mercy mark all of our actions, be our normal response. It is the only way to disarm grumpiness and cruelty whenever and wherever they invite us to dance with them.

A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself” Proverbs 11:17 (ESV). I read it this morning, right before I walked outside to feed the dogs, and yep, he did it again, not only did he do a number on the irrigation, he also tore up the obviously inadequate protective fencing I installed just two days ago. My inner GRUMP was awake in a flash. Good thing for Walter, aka “Butt-Head,” “Nerd of the Nation,” that God had me read that particular scripture before opening the front door, otherwise he might have gone to “doggy hell” instead of just the “dog house.” I wish all of my grumpy episodes were this benign, that all of my temptations to be cruel had pinned back ears and a saggy butt with a wagging tail and a pitiful look. But they don’t, and neither do yours. It is when we feel unkind, when we feel justified to be cruel, merciless, and harsh that we need to choose what is best over what seems to feel good at the moment.

Have you had to live with grump, or work next to grump day after day? Man, that’s taxing. There is nothing pleasant about the stench and constant ooze of the puss of unkindness continually threatening to become a full-blown infection. How do we maintain kindness there?

  • By continually reminding ourselves of how beneficial and right kindness is and feels.
  • Seeing the self-inflicted wounds of those who are unkind and cruel, and refusing to wound ourselves.
  • Remembering the principle that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7), kindness grows kindness.
  • Always looking to Jesus and the way he responded to unkindness and cruelty, For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly” 1 Peter 2:21-23 (NLT). Jesus conquered the very power sin and hell with kindness and mercy.

So today, tomorrow, and every day, do something super beneficial for you, be kind! “Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation” Proverbs 3:3-4 (NLT).

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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Can you picture two lovers without them having all kinds of hopes and dreams? I can’t. Hope thrives on love because real love is intrinsically hopeful, it wants to hope, it can’t help it. Love has the fragrance of hope, and in my case the scent of Wild Musk, at least when it comes to Susie. You spray a little Wild Musk into the air anywhere and anytime and immediately I will think of and look for Susie, it will instantly awaken my lover’s heart for her.

Have you ever driven by or walked through an orange or lemon orchard when it is in bloom? If you have, you know what overpowering fragrance is like. Even the few citrus trees in front of my house spread out a blanket of sweet perfume in the springtime – glorious. The weeds surrounding those trees don’t do that and so I treat them differently, I spray them with Round-Up (weed killer) while I fertilize the orange, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and mandarin trees. I have no hopes and dreams for the weeds other than to eradicate them, but I smile at just the thought of those trees blooming, I can picture the beauty of the bright colors of the fruit against the dark green leaves, and I am hoping that this year we will get to harvest more sweet fruit than ever, enough for us and to share.

Hope is fueled by love and love is never without hope, but they are also not without hate. Neither of them have any affection for evil, for that which is unloving, which is incompatible with love and hope, which erodes them, destroys them. It is that very reality which makes all of this so difficult, and often makes us unloving, destroyers of hope. After all, how do we decide what and who to legitimately love or hate? What should we hope for in terms of what should be and what should be eradicated?  “I (Jesu Christ) say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… 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 6:27-28, 35-36 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

It is one of, if not the great challenge of lovers, dealing with that in ourselves and the other which isn’t so lovely, which is more weed than delicious fruit, which threatens and attacks the love we feel and the hopes and dreams we have, even the things that are legitimate to hate. For example, “Here are six things GOD hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family” Proverbs 6:16-19 (MSG).

I want to love, I want to hope, in fact I am certain God wants me and you to be committed to both. It is one of the reasons I try to stick as close to God as I can, I need his help, I need him to guide me and teach me on this. He is the greatest lover and hoper there is. I on the other hand am prone to be narrow in my love, depraved in my hopes, selective in my mercy. I easily love what I should hate and hate what I should love. I have even hurt those whom I profess to love, squelched legitimate hopes and dreams, acted more like a stink weed than an orange blossom. Oh to get love and hope right.

To God be all glory. Happy Valentines. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Have ever had to call tech-support because you couldn’t figure something out on your computer? Maybe you tried to figure out your problem on your own and actually exacerbated the problem. Personally I like it when the tech on the phone just does that remote access thing and figures it all out. The other way is for him or her to walk you through it. For that to work you have do what you are told, “open settings, click on ‘the dummy messed it up rest button, …’” I wonder how much these techs laugh in the lunch room, “I just talked to this guy with a German accent, who deleted all of his emails permanently (which I did once) and expected me to work some miracle. Heck, he should have taken his computer to church for that and have the preacher lay hands on it and anoint it with oil.” I think I will call after lunch next time.

Anyway, the thing is that I don’t need to know as much as the computer tech but I have to trust what she says as she walks me through the fix it procedure. It is a step by step thing. I either trust the tech and follow the instructions even if I don’t understand them or the logic for and the reasons behind them. It is that way with life and God, with following Christ. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 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. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” Luke 6:34-38 (ESV).

You just read an excerpt of life instructions straight from God’s/Jesus’ lips. Let me ask you, did all of that make total sense to you? Did you fully understand all of the logic behind all of that? Did you immediately have several questions come to your mind? Frankly, I’d be surprised if you didn’t. Jesus lays out some very broad boundaries here, it is easy to get lost and confused there. How do you flesh this out? Where are the limits?

Jesus sums up the larger instructions (Luke 6:20-49), that include the above, with these words, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great”
Luke 6:46-49 (ESV).

I am sure you don’t need to call “pastor’s note support” to get the point. If you trust the tech, your doctor, your mechanic, your financial advisor, your …., then you follow their instructions. Now they all might be very good, even excellent, and you are better off because you trust them. But they are not near as expert and trustworthy as God/Jesus Christ. Will you and I trust his word and wisdom enough to do it, even when we do not understand it. We will live better lives if we do.

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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