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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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God Bless America

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
Psalm 67:1-7 (ESV)

It is a good thing to seek God’s blessing. We are much better off when God’s “good hand” is on us individually and collectively, and conversely, we are never in greater trouble than when God stretches out his hand against us. Which means God’s blessing is not automatic and he gets to decide the whom, what, when, and how of his blessings.

There is no problem with God’s blessing; the problems are in how we handle God’s blessings. We are not superior to the ancient Israelites who excelled at squandering God’s blessings, who didn’t use their liberty to liberate others, who didn’t use their prosperity to bless others, who when they received justice were not compelled to seek justice for others. God’s blessing did not inspire them to be more generous, more compassionate, more selfless, more forward looking, and more devoted to each other and to God. God’s blessing did not compel them to check their greed, their pride, their lusts, and their bend towards idolatry. In the end they fooled themselves into thinking that God was going to bless them because they were more special, “chosen,” “children of Abraham,” or in our case citizens of “the land of the free and the brave.”

Have you ever thought about how much more blessed we could be if we would only orient ourselves more on God, who as you read above, “judges the peoples with equity.” How much blessing have we squandered because we have not paid attention to just this one characteristic of God? There was no blessing in the treatment and genocide of Native Americans, prosperity, yes, but blessing no (remember the wicked do know how to prosper, Psalm 73:3, Job 21:7). Slavery held no blessing, but much profit. Segregation was not a snapshot of heaven. The wholesale legalization of abortion was not a victory but devalued and an entire segment of humanity among us and stripped it them of the most basic right, the right to life. There is no blessing in our staggering accumulation of debt, but it does expose our corruption, our greed, our inability to live within our means, and trusting our own wisdom more than God’s.  The need for affordable health care is not a problem for the rich, but it is for the poor, working families, and millions elderly, there is no blessing in not fixing this inequity. We squander blessing for both ourselves and the generations that follow us when we do not act towards the orphan, the widow, the poor, the alien (the foreigners among us), the weak, the oppressed, and the mistreated the way God does. We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and not desire that blessing for our “neighbor” (Luke 10:25-36).  We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and exclude him from public life, mock him in our culture, and reduce him to one among many gods. We are not immune to both burning through the inheritance left to us and adding to the list of things that are devoid of God’s blessing.

We should seek God’s blessing, it is unequivocally the right thing to do for us, for others, for the future, and before God. You and I should with all of hearts seek God’s blessing for America, so we will bless him, so He will receive the praise and honor he deserves, so we will “leave an inheritance” of blessing to our children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), an inheritance that is about more than prosperity, more than self, but instead perpetuates, “equal,” “the pursuit of happiness,” and “liberty and justice for all” (all truly meaning all, including all people and peoples).” Only then can we legitimately be called good and godly, only then can we sing, “God bless America,” and it be more than a patriotic sentiment but a sincere request of Almighty God. O that “all the ends of the earth would fear him,” know him, praise him, and worship him.

May God bless the United States of America. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Palm Sunday Revisited

(Before you read the pastor’s note that follows I highly recommend taking out a Bible and read Matthew 21:1-46)

The drycleaners and Laundromats were busy after Jesus rode into town. All those coats and blankets needed cleaning and washing after being used for an impromptu welcoming mat, an unofficial red carpet. Of course it is easy to lay down your coat, to get all caught up in the spirit and hype of the moment, it is quite another thing to lay down your life and follow Jesus.

It went downhill quickly; the crowd’s expectations and Jesus’ expectations were miles apart. They missed the first clue. Jesus came riding a donkey, not a stallion, not a chariot, not a limousine, not a pope-mobile, no police motorcade, no demonstrations of power, military parades, fly-bys, and choreographed pageantries, no speeches, no press conference, just quietness and humility. But it is easy to overlook ‘minor’ details when seemingly big things are on the line.

They wanted their particular “Hosanna” (save now!) Jesus (Savior), who would represent and implement their particular brand of politics regarding personal and national interests. They wanted change without having to change. They wanted the foreigners, those who didn’t belong, out. They wanted times of former glory without repentance.

Jesus had entirely different expectations, his first act after parking the donkey was confronting what everyone had accepted, using God, using religion for our own ends. He walked into the temple and acted like a madman, flipping tables, kicking down booths where pilgrims and worshippers were exploited. Coming into God’s presence is supposed to be free of exploitation. God is not a racket. They had gotten so used to the perversion and misuse of the holy, of the spiritual, of God that they thought it was normal. It wasn’t just those who ran the temple, but also the common worshipper who thought all it takes is a coat in the street, the appropriate offering, a monetary contribution, followed by a prayer to get God onto your side, have him working for you, have blessed odds for your desired outcomes.

The next day, on his way back into Jerusalem, Jesus curses a fig tree that has leaves but no fruit. It, like the expectations of the people and the reality in the temple, was not how God has meant for it to be. Outward appearance is not enough, God has both public and private expectations of us, namely, to bear the fruit we are capable of bearing. He is expecting more than coats in the road, cheap religious pageantry and fancy liturgy, more than green leaves. What they wanted flipped and cursed is not what Jesus flipped and cursed.

We still do it, try to make Jesus conform to our particular brand of politics; it is so much easier than conforming our politics to Jesus. It is easier to pick a crowd to march and scream with than to deal with the tables that need to be flipped and the fruit that is missing. On the flipside it is easy to make following Jesus something that is merely personal, to claim a private relationship with Jesus that has no connection to the public and political. Don’t be fooled, it has its own “money changers” who convert the Christian life into a spiritual form of self-indulgence, a personal spiritual retreat where justice, poverty, sacrifice, suffering, involved compassion rarely make it into our prayers unless we ourselves need help, where there is lots of green but little or no of kingdom passion and fruit.

After they welcomed Jesus they picked up their coats, but “(Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” Luke 9:23 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Greatness

They were rebuilding the temple, the capital, their country. They celebrated, shouted, danced, and had a great ceremony when they dedicated the new temple foundation. It was the right thing to do, this was a great day, things were going upward. Some however, a small crowd of old people, wept (Ezra 3:12). They remembered the old temple, the one Solomon had built, the time when silver was counted as nothing because of the abundance of gold (2 Chronicles 9:20). Haggai the prophet told Zerubbabel to ask those old survivors, Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” Haggai 2:3 (NIV).

Great, Greatness looks different to different people. The CEO might be celebrated by the shareholders because the stock price went through the roof, but the workforce might be cursing his name because their work conditions and meager wages. There all kinds of halls of fame, awards ceremonies, and prestigious prizes (especially here in America), all of them highlighting and celebrating greatness in some field, but while some cheer others weep, what looks good on the stage might me misery at home.

Of course I am bringing all this up because the words “greatness,” “being great again,” is echoing across the land, primarily in terms of patriotism, protectionism, power, and prosperity. We will be great when we are first, when we win, when we prosper.

In some ways there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t just want to be mediocre, no good citizen wants their country to be so-so, and certainly not be a mess. There are noble aspirations. But just what and who defines noble aspirations for a person and a people? Not you and me, not the cheers of the masses, not the memories of the aged, not the evaluations of the experts, not who has the most, not who is the most eloquent, accomplished, or educated. God alone is able to define true greatness, for the simple and most obvious reason, there is no one greater. His greatness has never faded, it bears no flaw, it is unchallenged and glorious beyond compare. The greatness of God also informs us that true greatness and morality are never separated; we cannot be truly great and be unholy.

When God the Son, Jesus Christ, walked among us in human flesh he confronted his followers, his disciples on the issue of greatness. Their aspirations were unholy, they were jockeying for cabinet posts, they thought it was mainly about national politics and to simply make Israel great again. Scheming behind the scenes – acceptable. No transparency – acceptable. Not caring about some – acceptable. Making it all about power – acceptable. So “He (Jesus Christ) asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” Mark 9:33-35 (ESV).

“But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many’” Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT).

We are called to flesh out this kind of greatness. We are not at liberty to reduce Jesus’ clear instruction and command (“must”) to merely our private sphere. We must take on the challenge to realize Christlike greatness in all personal, public, political, and pressing realities of our day. We will never be really great unless our definition of greatness matches God’s. We will never be really great if our aspirations for greatness do not inspire what is good and right and holy, right where we live and for all people/s.

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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And so blessing and cursing (truth and lies) come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! …

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:10&13-18 (NLT, parenthesis mine)

If someone’s words don’t match their actions, which do you believe? Or more importantly, can you believe them?

At a party attended by only white people is it okay to talk about black people in degrading fashion and muse on how to exploit them? At party of all black people is it okay talk about white people in a degrading fashion and consider how to exploit them? Is degrading and predatory talk about women, which includes my wife and girls, really okay because it is boys letting loose on a bus or because there is a lot of testosterone in the “locker room?” And if I do, what does that say about me?

If you get caught speeding in a 25 mph school zone, are you not guilty because you didn’t see the posted signs? And if the officer points to the sign you just ignored is it a legitimate defense to claim that you have no idea what that sign actually means? And if you top it off by telling the highway patrol that this has never happened to you, but when she checks your record that turns out to be lie, what are the chances of you not getting a ticket? If you destroy evidence after being it being subpoenaed, and if you repeatedly don’t tell the truth about the same matter, can you claim to be trustworthy?

I suppose this has always frustrated us about our politicians and politics, this discrepancy between words and actions, public image and the truth, those slick presentations and actual agendas, the promises made, not to keep, but to tell us what we like to hear, mouths incongruent with closed doors behaviors, the things shown and that which no one is supposed to see and know.

In most big elections I have witnessed the answers to this discrepancy has been, (1) that is just the other side running a smear campaign, (2) character, morals, and ethics are overrated, they are not nearly as important as getting things done, (3) politics is not for squeaky clean choir-boys/girls, it’s a contact sport.

True, politics isn’t any cleaner than running a dairy farm, there is a whole lot of s…/cow-pucky. Sooner than later you will step into some, have some flung at you, or get it on you some way or another. You will have to deal with it on a continual basis; it is an ever present reality. But I also know this, some dairies are a lot cleaner than others, and that depends entirely on the farmer, the person in charge, and how important running the farm clean is to him or her. I also venture to say that the cows’ welfare has a lot to do with how all of this inevitable manure is dealt with. One thing’s for sure, slinging manure, pointing out how filthy others are, or excusing your own crap doesn’t do anything as far as cleaning yourself up or staying clean goes.

I have been encouraging you to be fully engaged with your God-given political responsibly, including your vote. The present dirtiness should offend us but not disengage us. We would do well if what we require of, what we wished were true of our candidates are the standards we set for ourselves, and that we check those standards to what God expects of us personally and collectively.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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