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And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Mark 10:2-12 (ESV)

 

Sklerokardia, hardness of heart was the reason Moses acquiesced to write a soft divorce law into the legal code of ancient Israel. Of all the tough and strange laws Moses proposed this is the only objection mentioned and, according to Jesus, it was a straight argument against God’s design.

 

The disciples give us a clue as to what went on in their ancestors’ hearts when they responded to Jesus’ answer on divorce with, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” Matthew 19:10 (ESV). “Too hard,” they cried, “What if s/he turns out to a bum/ette? Or a nag? Or worse?” “That’s just not realistic!” Contrary to Moses, Jesus didn’t budge. Keep in mind that marriages in Jesus time were arranged marriages.

 

The difference between a hard and tender heart is amazing. One will keep track of every offense the other won’t even remember. One will be stuck on self while other serves. One will build bulwarks of defenses and excuses the other keeps trying. One will refuse to be merciful and tender the other refuses to give up on faith, hope, and love. One will cry, “Too hard!” the other will dare to move mountains. No wonder the wisdom book of the Bible  tells us to, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life (and marriage)” Proverbs 4:23 (NLT2, parenthesis mine), and Jesus described “… from the (unguarded, hard) heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” Matthew 15:19 (NLT2, parenthesis mine).

“S/he won’t change!” “What’s the use?” “Believe me, I tried.” “I don’t love him/her anymore.” “There are no feelings left.” “I don’t know if we were ever really meant to be together.” Words spoken on the way out, words that originate from a hard heart. Words that say more about the person saying them than the one s/he is talking about, words that reveal much about their faith and their heart.

Isn’t it interesting that God is so inflexible about permitting us to walk out of a marriage? The most intimate of human relationships is meant to last, to reflect Christlikeness like no other relationship (Ephesians 5:22-33), to shape our hearts, our love to be like Christ’s.

Hard hearts don’t have to stay hard, although they surely want to be. A good place to start is to pray, “O God, please change my hard heart,” and follow that with the most loving action towards whom your heart has grown heart without expecting a particular response, and then do it again, and again, and …

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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“A wise child brings joy to a father; a foolish child brings grief to a mother.”

“The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise. So give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy.” Proverbs 10:1; 23:24-25 (NLT2)

 My Mama was the mother of five boys. She kept telling us that we were exactly what she wanted, what she’d prayed for. I think she meant it, but I wonder how often she thought, “What in the hesch have I gotten myself into?” Her sister, my second Mama/Aunt, stormed out of our house on more than one occasion, yelling, “This house is nothing but an insane asylum!”

I didn’t think about whether I was bringing joy or grief to her back when she was raising us, but I have done so often since I left home. The verdict is clear, I brought her way too much grief. While she made her life about us, I made my life about me, and in doing so I helped turn her hair gray, added to her wrinkles beyond time, caused her to weep and pray, who knows how often.

Mother’s Day, which was an up and coming kind of thing back then, was a cheap way of easing the conscience. Buy something nice, be nice for a day, go back to the same old the next day. Sounds like cheap religion, doesn’t it? And it is. She was gracious though, acting like she really needed more of the same perfume, although she still had three full bottles on her dresser. But there really isn’t any perfume that can cover the stink we cause in someone’s life, is there? And I, we, stunk up her life, caused her grief instead of being big bottles of joy.

Where we stunk, she was fragrant, where I embraced wrong she chose right, where I pursued sin, she practiced godliness, where I was short-sighted she held on to the long-view.  She didn’t go the cheap route but instead gave us what lasts, what you can’t order on Amazon, what will remain fragrant even when I stink it up. So now, today, the memory of my Mama is a joy to me, a still rushing stream of blessing, although she has been gone for thirty years.

I am still the son of Margarete Frei, the woman who gave birth to me, the Mama who raised me, and it still matters whether or not I conduct myself in ways that are wise, that are selfless, that are godly, that bring her joy, that glorify God and Christ.

“Honor your father and mother” Exodus 20:12, not just for a day but with your life. It is what both pleases God and is rewarded by God.

Happy Mother’s Day. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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What is your definition of blessing, your mental picture of a blessed life? A lot depends on it. It plays a significant part in determining what we value. It will impact how we evaluate our circumstances. It will shape our fears. It shapes the core of our faith. It will drive our actions.

Have you ever examined the prayer requests in y/our church and churches you have visited? The vast (and I mean vast) majority are about health, followed by requests for protection and provision. It reveals our spiritual priorities as much as the record of our checking accounts reveals our financial priorities. How do we reconcile this with Jesus’ instruction, “If God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” Matthew 6:29-33 (NLT2).

Small wonder that the “prosperity gospel,” health and wealth preachers find easy prey and are exploiting people and believers all over the globe. They tie into both the anxieties and definitions of blessings that are common to all people but should not be to followers of Christ. Small wonder the politics of nationalism, exclusion, and hate have always found vast audiences even among Christians. If our definition of blessing is at its core about health, wealth, prosperity, liberty, comfort and security we will be overcome by fear anytime they are threatened, and we will do whatever is necessary to maintain, protect, and restore those blessings. And when that happens, according to Jesus, we act no different than those who do not believe.

It is not wrong to seek the blessing(s) of God. Actually, the Bible (the written word of God) continually encourages living according to the commands, principles, and ways God blesses, for example, “Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams” Malachi 3:10 (MSG). Who wouldn’t want for God to pour out blessings beyond what we even asked and hoped for over him or her, over our families, over us as a people? Imagine with me getting it all (much like Solomon mentioned above), health wealth, peace, comfort, safety, not just for you but also for your family and nation. (Are you feeling blessed just imagining it?). Are you aware that this the point most people forget about God, quit depending on God, no longer have a need for God (including Solomon)? That this definition of blessing is also our greatest stumbling block, intoxicating to our sin-nature?

A Christian definition of blessing is much broader than health, prosperity, liberty, comfort, and safety; it has to be because it has to encompass earthly reality and the kingdom of God, it has to concern itself with more than own needs and include the needs of all of mankind, it has to be about more than the here and now and fully embrace the eternal, it needs to take us beyond our own dreams and completely embrace the plans and purposes of God. So, how confused do you think was Jesus’ audience when they heard him declare, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …, those who mourn …, the gentle …, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …, the merciful …, the pure in heart …, the peacemakers …, and then top it off with the following, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me (Jesus Christ). Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV, parenthesis mine)?

As followers of Jesus, we dare not live by an incomplete definition of blessing because in short order it will cause us to think, worry, speak, vote, cheer, and fight like unbelievers. And, it will render us a people with much passion for the things of this world (1 John 2:15-16) but little thought and even less fire for the Jesus’ kingdom.

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

 

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 Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise:
“Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!”
Proverbs 31:28-29 (MSG)

 She, my Mama, must have read them in the bathroom; not the restroom, which was a separate little room, and anyway, she wasn’t into porcelain throne scholarship like some in our family were. The bathroom was the bathroom and laundry room. A bathtub (no shower) under the high up window where we got a weekly bath, next to the tub a sink with a mirrored cabinet you didn’t mess with, a washing machine to the right of the sink, two hanging cabinets filled with towels and washrags on the opposite wall, and two cloth hampers under those cabinets, one just for my dad’s clothes and the other for everyone else. You never wanted to open Dad’s hamper because the mixture of cigarette smoke and the stink of his socks was downright toxic. Anyway, my Mama spent a lot of time in that bathroom, not fixing herself up, but taking care of us.

I didn’t find out that she also read in the bathroom, most likely while doing laundry, until I got tall enough to reach the towel cabinets. I thought I had discovered a secret stash of forbidden literature hidden under the stack of towels on the top shelf inside. But they turned out to be boring magazines and pamphlets about parenting. I have no idea where she got them from, but they were worn from multiple readings.

I also know that Mama prayed in that bathroom, long after I had left home she told me so. I don’t think it was just ordinary prayer that happened in there, I think she languished in prayer while the washing machine went through its cycles. She knew we wouldn’t bother her while washing clothes because if you did you most likely got stuck having to help her hanging them up to dry. And we needed prayer, all five of us, and Dad as well. So, our dirty boys’ bodies got washed in there, our clothes got washed, and our souls and lives were taken before the one who could keep us and cleanse us from sin. And we could not have cared less about all three of these, except latter two when we started liking girls and clean bodies and clothes somehow became a lot more important.

I don’t know why I ended up with a great and godly Mama? I do know she was one of God’s greatest gifts in my life. But I also know she wasn’t just an accidental great and godly Mama. Great and godly rarely if ever just happen. Mama loved us in the little bathroom maybe more than anywhere else. Love, Learning, Languishing Prayer still spills out of the memory of my Mama in that bathroom, her commitment to these three shaped both her and us, her boys. How I thank God for her, and how I thank her.

Happy Mother’s Day, Pastor Hans

 

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Little Big Things – Words – How We Say What We Say

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17 (NLT2)

As a lousy speller, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate “spell check” and “Grammarly,” without them these p-notes of mine would be unreadable, although I am sure many of still cringe at my use of the English language. However, spell-checking by itself is not enough, it won’t pick up using a rightly spelled wrong word, it won’t reign in my twisted grammar. My words need multiple checks, yours probably do too. It is like that with all of our words, all our communications, because it is not just what we say that is important but also how we say it. Love and kindness, and humility are not optional to the serious Christian life, to a Holy Spirit filled and directed life. You can say, “I love you,” and not really mean it. Were you ever told to apologize right now and say, “I’m sorry,” but you really didn’t mean it and although you said the words you weren’t sorry one bit?

Can you be too loving, too kind, too humble, too meek? Maybe, but judging by my own self and most people I have met we are not even close to the too loving, too kind, too humble line, so we might as well hide behind it.

We are capable, you know, to speak words and even say difficult things wrapped in love. We can decide to propagate our speech with kindness. We are able to check our pride, to edit our tendency to self-promote, to look at things from more than our own viewpoints, to use our words to benefit the listeners.

Just because we want to say it does not mean we should, especially if we are mad, disgusted, frustrated, bitter, disappointed, hurt, rushed, exhausted, betrayed, unappreciated, under-valued, treated wrongly, or are suffering an injustice. “Well it needed to be said and I’m glad I said it!” sounds good, but still is no excuse to leave love, kindness, and humility behind. We are so good at defending ourselves even when we are wrong, aren’t we?

Scripture tells us to:

  • “Speak the truth in love.”Ephesians 4:1
  • “What is desirable in a man is his kindness, And it is better to be a poor man than a liar. Proverbs 19:22 (NASB)
  • A woman of excellence,“She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26 (NASB)
  • “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)

 What happens when we divorce our words from the right attitudes, a godly tone, a Christlike heart? It becomes easy to speak (and type) harsh, self-righteous, divisive, manipulative, destructive, hateful, two-faced, deceptive, proud and arrogant words. Good words are robbed of their ability to bless, to heal, to encourage, to produce good. An “I love you,” becomes twisted. An “I am so sorry,” drives a deeper wedge. A good word or praise breeds distrust, “What does he really want.” Listeners are not better off for having heard them.

Right words are almost impossible without a right heart, but oh how refreshing it is to be on the listening end of right words from a good heart. The two of us, let’s keep praying and practicing the scripture below and both of us will be better off be. May the words of my mouth (all my words) and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

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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