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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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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

It is tough to be merciful with a hard heart and it is impossible to be godly and Christlike with a hard heart.

It is a lot easier to accuse everyone else of wrong, of hardness of heart than to address our own heart condition.

At the Sabbath (church) service they were hoping Jesus would do something they could nail him on (sad). You can be sure your heart is hard when you’re waiting for people to mess up. What would he do for the man with the crippled hand? Would he break the man-made Sabbath interpretations and regulations? If he did, they were ready to pounce, to accuse, to raise a stink – something hard hearts love to do.

Jesus didn’t disappoint, in fact, he called the disabled man up front, had him stretch out his crippled hand (the thing he was hiding) for all to see, and healed him. However, before doing so he asked a question, “Is it lawful on Sabbath to do good or to harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). That’s an easy question with an easy answer, but they didn’t want to answer, hard hearts hate to be exposed to be cornered, to answer questions that prove them wrong.

Their hardness of heart made Jesus angry and it grieved him. They were willing to let a man stay crippled for the sake of their man-made rules, their authority to enforce them, and their way of life. You know your heart is hard when there is an opportunity to do good and show compassion and you bypass it not because God’s law is hindering you, but because you love your own way, rules, opinions, and politics more.

Jesus healed the crippled man. The Synagogue should’ve exploded with cheers and praise, but hard hearts have a hard time cheering for those who expose them, even when they do incredible good. Instead, there is an eerie silence in the synagogue following the healing. I have to believe there were some who wanted to cheer and clap, but, to their shame, they let themselves be held in check by the hard hearts of their leaders. They were waiting to see what their leaders, their group would do and then, regrettably, fell in line with the silence when “Hallelujahs” were in order. Silence produced by hardness of heart is never good.

Rather than change those religious hard hearts “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” Mark 3:6 (NIV). Hard hearts find each and encourage each other (as do tender hearts). Can you see Jesus at any border hiding behind man-made rules? Would Christ applaud Captain Carola Rackete who steered Sea-Watch 3 filled with refugees into an Italian harbor although she was ordered not to and was promptly arrested? Who have you been criticizing, deploring, so much so that you can longer see any good they do? Are you staying silent both in the face of wrong and good because that is not what your group, your party, opposes and does not cheer? Towards whom do you have a hard heart?

Porosis is the Greek word used here by Mark. They had porosis of the heart, “moral ossification” (Robertson), the hardening of muscle tissue, meaning that which was meant to be soft became hard. The other word used in the New Testament for hardness of heart is sklerokardia. Maybe you have heard of osteoporosis – bones becoming brittle or arteriosclerosis – hardening/thickening of the arteries. You can go to the doctor for these conditions, although they are not necessarily easy to treat. Who do you go to with hardness of heart? God. You and I can trust him when he says, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT2).

Don’t live another week with hardness of heart.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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I needed to fix a slow air leak in a  riding mower front tire. Simple fix, really. You just put in an inner-tube. The guy at the tire shop where I bought an innertube informed me that they don’t like to work on those little wheels, “They are real little buggers,” he said.

I thought, “How hard can it be? I’ve done plenty of bicycle and wheelbarrow tires. I’ll save the fifteen buck installation fee.”

“Real little buggers,” was an understatement. “Gigantic pain in the posterior,” would’ve been much more accurate. I wrestled that little wheel like a greased pig and in the process managed to puncture the innertube six times. When I pumped it up it whistled like a pan flute, and, trying to fix the fix I ran out of patches.

Before putting it all back together I watched some YouTube videos on how to fix “little bugger” mower wheels because clearly, I didn’t know how to do it right. It is amazing what you can learn on YouTube.

I clearly needed some instruction before attempting to put things back together a second time (To be honest, I was tempted to take it back to the tire shop on my next trip to town and plunk down the fifteen bucks. But I couldn’t bear the thought of the tire shop guy looking at my new, six times patched tube and cracking up and call the rest of the shop crew over to “check out this clumsy fool!”) So, with my hurt pride, I got myself a YouTube education on wrestling these little butt-kicking wheels. Two Vise Grips and a long bolt and nut in the bench vise proved to be super helpful.

Would you call me “a little dense,” or “downright stupid,” if after watching helpful YouTube videos I would have tried to get that tire back on the same way I did the first time?

Would you think of me as “ridiculous” if instead of trying to follow the practical YouTube instructions I called everyone on the prayer-chain to have them join in praying for a miracle fix to my tire problem?

Would you have a difficult time not rolling your eyes at me, thinking “Really!” if this weekend at church I would tell everybody how Satan is attacking me again, making my life miserable, how everything that possibly can go wrong is going wrong, and that few people have suffered this deeply and profoundly.

Would you wonder if I had a brain if I would park a perfectly good running riding mower behind the shed and let it rot away because of flat a front tire I didn’t know how to fix myself?

Maybe you chuckled once or twice reading this pastor’s note so far, but thirty-five years of pastoring, preaching, and teaching the Bible this is what I see all too often:

  1. Christians ignoring the greatest life-instruction manual ever written, the Bible.
  2. Christians overestimating their own wisdom, knowledge, skill, and strength.
  3. Christians making a mess, leaking, dragging like flat tires.
  4. Christians turning to God, the Bible, and godly counsel in times of crisis (YouTubing solutions), only to ignore them and go back to what didn’t work before.
  5. Christians turning prayer into some kind of magic wand as a replacement for following sound biblical wisdom and instruction.
  6. Christians rolling in continual self-pity and catharsis but unwilling to inform themselves and refusing to implement biblical ways and wisdom into their thinking, attitudes, habits, behavior, circumstances, and problems.
  7. Christians dragging from Sunday to Sunday (or just dragging) leaking air through self-inflicted punctures only to park the whole tractor of a vibrant life in Christ in the scrap yard behind the barn with all the other old broken-down tractors, trucks, and implements.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions the Bible gives you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7-9 (adapted from NLT2)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. For your tires I got the phone # of the tire shop.

 

 

 

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How many stop signs do you encounter during an average day or your morning commute? Probably too many. I am fairly certain you don’t have a favorite stop sign, but chances are high you can tell me about a stop sign you don’t like, try to avoid, or think that it is in a ridiculous spot. Maybe you also recall a stop sign or two you or someone else ignored and things got hairy or disastrous. Stop signs are a nuisance in a go culture; they impede us and slow us down.

The Gospel of Luke (17:11-18) tells us of ten men whose lives were stopped, altered, and slowed down by the infectious and then incurable disease of leprosy. When Jesus came by they put up a verbal stop sign, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Good for them, Jesus slowed down, stopped, and granted them healing. His specific instruction was, “Go show yourselves to the priests,” who also served as health officials, and which you only did if you somehow had recovered. So the ten lepers departed and on their way to the priests their leprosy vanished. The stoplight that had turned permanently red all of the sudden turned back to green. They were released back into a life of “go”, and they were not going to look back, except one. He stopped while the others continued, he turned around and went back to find Jesus. On the way he couldn’t help praising and glorifying God at the top of his lungs, and when he found Jesus “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (NIV).

If you and I no longer stop to give thanks to God when he incredibly blesses us then we are going too fast with a head that is most likely way too big. When we get irritated by things as small as an inconvenient stop sign or slow-turning traffic signal we probably won’t handle it well when we are slowed or stopped by more weighty things.

King David confessed, When I was prosperous, I said, ‘Nothing can stop me now!’” Psalm 30:6 (NLT2). Did you notice his pace and the attitude? It lasted until God placed a stop sign he couldn’t ignore, “You turned away from me, and I was shattered” (verse 7, NLT2). So he did what the ten lepers did, he cried for mercy, “Hear me, LORD, and have mercy on me. Help me, O LORD” (verse 10, NLT2). And then he finally left the company of the nine and joined the leper who turned back to praise God and give thanks, You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!” (verses 11-12, NLT2).

So what if for the remainder of this year we use every stop sign and red traffic light as a training tool to teach us to continually turn to God to thank and praise him, to embrace every stop as an opportunity to look through eyes of thanksgiving instead of grumpiness and ungratefulness, to let every stop remind us to not be too full of ourselves but instead to continually be full gratitude and praise to God. I hope you try it and share with me the impact, (dergermanshepherd@gmail.com).

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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Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” Numbers 21:4-5 (NASB)

The new car smell was long gone and there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the car, it was in good shape, dependable, and most importantly – it was paid for. But he couldn’t count those blessings, all he could see was the miles on the odometer, the stains on the seats, the few scratches here and there, and all that it was missing compared to a new car. So finally he even convinced his wife with all his car negativity, surely a new car would bring relief and happiness. In fact it brought more stress, the payments and increased costs stretched the budget to the “constant worry” level. It didn’t take long for the negativity to return.

“What were you thinking? Why did I ever go along with that? I loved the old car!” the wife accused.

“Oh now it’s all my fault! I seem to remember you signing the papers too!” he snarled back, before storming out.

The liberation of the ancient Israelites had slowed to an agonizing taxing crawl. They found themselves on another detour, this time a long march around the kingdom of Edom, which wouldn’t allow them to use the Kings Highway. It didn’t take long for their inclination towards pessimism to resurface. In their grumbling against and accusation of God and Moses they did what negative, complaining pessimist do – twist the facts.

The facts were they had not died, they had not starved, nor had they run out of water. There was fresh food every morning and God had just supplied enough water from a rock for every person and all of their livestock. The truth was that they were on this detour because of their own dumb and faithless choices. They already would have been where God wanted them to be if they had trusted God more than their fears, if they had surrendered to God instead of their constant negativity, foolishness, and sinful ways.

Lying to themselves was not enough. The clincher was their utter ungratefulness, “We loathe, despise, detest this miserable food.” What should have been a daily source of thanksgiving and praise was turned into a spoiled complaint and self-indictment. There was nothing wrong with the food, nor with God and Moses, their faithfulness, their goodness, and their patience was impeccable.

Too many stall out with God, in following Jesus Christ. Not because there is anything wrong with God and Christ or because preachers are telling lies and mislead, but because somewhere along the journey of spiritual liberation in Christ there is a failure of faith followed by a twisting of the facts expressed in negativity and thanklessness. The Christian life, a life with God, is not just a quick moment of faith resulting in liberation from sin; it is also a lifelong devotion to faith on the journey. “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. ‘For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.’ But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved” Hebrews 10:35-39 (NLT). This is what the generation Moses led out of Egypt never learned. May you and I learn and be different.

To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD… — To give thanks to the name of the LORD. Psalm 122:1, 4b (NASB)

Have you ever been a rut and didn’t know it? Maybe you were working, working, working and someone had to come along and tell you, “You need to slow down; you need to take a break”. Or maybe when you were so busy you forgot to eat and someone had to remind you. It is amazing how many ruts there are and how when you are in one you often don’t even know it until someone comes along and hollers at you down in your rut.

Maybe we should all get together and play, “Name that Rut.” I have been in both of the ones mentioned above, as well as in the rut of self-pity, greed , negativity, business (wait I am still in that one), over-commitment, being out of shape, joylessness, stubbornness, overestimating my importance, procrastination, …. Feel free to kick in and participate anytime with some of your own __________________________________________________ .

Ruts trap us, they lock in our wheels, and they paralyze our minds to the point of unawareness. It is really easy to get into a rut but it is difficult to get out of one, especially when you have been in one for a while. It is possible to get in such a deep rut that that we can’t see anything else, we think it’s normal when it is not. If we let it, a rut will keep us until the day we die, it will have us circling, and circling, and circling, only a little deeper each time around. That’s why sometimes the only way out of a rut is if someone cares enough to shout down into it, cause to us stop, and give us a hand to pull us out – “I was glad when they said to me, …”

Why had that person stopped going up to God’s house – stopped coming into God’s presence, stopped worshipping God? How did s/he get into a rut where thanking God was no longer important, much less something primary? Maybe “praying for the peace of Jerusalem” seemed like a joke, much like praying for peace and politics can seem like a joke today? Maybe s/he had decided that there were already too many hypocrites going to God’s house? Maybe s/he wasn’t all that convinced anymore that there even is a God? Maybe s/he was simply stuck in some other rut where there was no time, energy, or sense of importance for spiritual things? We don’t know. But we do know that whatever the rut was that person was glad that someone cared enough to both holler and reach down into that rut. “Stop and come with us, to worship, to pray, to give thanks,” was the invitation.

This Thanksgiving be the one who invites all the others who have gathered to go before God to acknowledge him, to praise him, and to give him thanks. Be the one who won’t let it be just an ordinary holiday circling in a godless rut of family, friends, food, fun, and football. “Let us go to the house of the LORD. … — To give thanks to the name of the LORD,” because this is where all giving of thanks should begin.

This Thanksgiving lets bow before God who in is love, mercy, and grace hollered and reached down into the inescapable rut of our sinfulness, confirmed by human history, and has invited us through his Son Jesus Christ, to come into his house, and to give thanks.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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