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Archive for the ‘salvation’ Category

  • Changed wireless plan to unlimited for just five dollars more a month – a little thing.
  • Standing in line at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for a ridiculously long time – a little thing.
  • Finished restoring the old 65 Aristocrat travel trailer – a little thing.
  • Our first granddaughter born healthy and her Mama is okay – a very big thing.
  • A lost, sinful soul found and restored – a very big thing in heaven (Luke 15)
  • Money management – a very little very big thing

            Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg– I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” 
Luke 16:15 (NIV)

In our perspective, and certainly in the Pharisees’ mindset, Jesus turned a lot of things upside down in just a few sentences. We are prone to managing God and worshipping money, but we should be doing the exact opposite. Did you also notice how the dishonest manager needed a change of perspective: from “now” to “long-term,” from focusing on making his life better to using his influence and power to make life easier for others, from misuse to right use of money, from hedonism to spiritual and eternal significance. (You might want to read on in Luke 16 and let Jesus confront you with the second parable/story in this chapter as well).

According to Jesus/God, there is a difference between being rich and being truly rich, but, truth be told, many (if not most) of us would settle for the former and give little thought to the latter. And so, we end up making a little (literally a smaller than microscopic thing) a big thing, which ends up making a huge impact on our hearts, our perspective, our priorities, our relationships, our character, and most importantly our eternal destiny.

The rich man in the second parable of Luke 16 implores Moses to send a poor, paralyzed man back from the dead to warn his brothers, to shake them up, so they would manage their wealth and lifestyle differently, with eternity and accountability to God in mind. Moses refuses the plea, telling him that they already have enough information in the Word of God (the Bible) to know what they should do and how to do it. Which means we do as well, and thus it is merely a question of whether or not we will.

To God Be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tomorrow

Today was yesterday’s tomorrow and tomorrow will only come after today is done. Sometimes we can’t wait for tomorrow to come and then there are times we hope tomorrow will take its sweet time, but tomorrow will come at the steady pace it has always come, paying no mind to how we feel about it.

I suppose the way we feel about tomorrow depends a lot on how today goes and yesterday went; one thing is for sure though, it won’t be exactly like today or yesterday. It might look an awful lot like yesterday, or it might be worse, and hopefully, it will be better.

Few things impact our tomorrows more than what we do today, what we do with today. For Mary and Martha, the past week or more had been terrible. Their brother, the one they depended on got sick and died. The doctors couldn’t help, their prayers didn’t help, and Jesus the healer didn’t show up until today (a case of, “Where was God when we needed him?”), four long days too late. So, today was another day of grief, actually, worse grief, because Jesus showed up and it brought up bitter questions about last week. “Why didn’t you come sooner?” “If only you would have showed up this wouldn’t have happened!” were the first words out of Martha and Mary’s mouths. It’s bad when yesterday leaves you with gnawing questions and doubts, when yesterday buries today’s hope. Death just wreaks havoc with tomorrow; it is an enemy we cannot defeat.

To us, death seems and feels like the end of all tomorrows, but it isn’t. It can destroy the body but not the soul, only God has the power over both (Matthew 10:28). Jesus didn’t blame Martha and Mary for feeling the way they did, but he also pointed out that they still did not understand who he is. It is possible to have good theology (and certainly bad theology) without understanding, “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” John 11:21-27 (NIV).

You didn’t enter today and you are not reading this today without believing something, and whatever your beliefs are will impact not only your immediate tomorrow but also your eternal tomorrows. It is neither our beliefs in themselves nor the sincerity with which we might hold them that can defeat our reality of death and empower us to cling to life. It is not just a matter what we believe but more importantly who we believe in. Only Jesus Christ is “the resurrection and the life,” and only those who “believe in him will never die.”

The objections to the truth of Christ have been many: Too narrow, too simplistic, too unreal, too difficult to believe for a rational mind, too … They always will be just that, objections, unable to change the truth of Christ any more than the truth that tomorrow will come. The only way to be truly prepared for tomorrow is to believe in and follow Jesus Christ because we do not know what tomorrow holds, Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” 2 Corinthians 6:2 (HCSB). The Easter question is whether you will believe in and follow Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, and resurrected today and not put him off until tomorrow or too late? How I hope you will.

Have a glorious Easter. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. Romans 14:12 (NLT)

That collides with our notions of personal freedom; the higher the accountability the less free we are. So, we advocate for others to abide by our own standards—it makes accountability easier for us, and living by “What happened in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is a lot less complicated and embarrassing. Unfortunately, (actually fortunately), God has never agreed to our varied standards of accountability. Saint Ambrose may have coined “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, but God has never endorsed this phrase.

There is a difference between high accountability and complete accountability. We appreciate people who embrace high accountability, and we credit them for having integrity. We expect certain people to live with high accountability, like judges, law-enforcement officers, leaders, and clergy, and we bitterly bemoan when they turn out to be corrupt. We like it when those we do business with are accountable, when they deliver on their word and don’t hide behind fine print. We love it when our children develop morally and embrace accountability over secrecy and excuse-making. But complete accountability, the kind God talks about and will eventually exact of us, is quite a different thing. This is how the scriptures, God’s written word, define it:

 I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. Matthew 12:36 (HCSB)

 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. Hebrews 4:12-13 (HCSB)

 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.  2 Corinthians 5:10-11 (NLT)

 We are responsible for every act, every opportunity, everything we are capable of, every dollar spent, every thought, every desire, even every little word—that’s complete and total accountability. It makes the heart of sinners sink, makes us want to slink into a dark corner and hide, it causes us to quickly grasp for some kind of cover (even one as flimsy as fig leaves), and when all of these fail (and they do) we start with the excuses and finger pointing (Genesis 3).

If we’d have a vote on this we would cast it for high accountability or as-little-as-possible-accountability, but complete and total accountability would not garner many votes, certainly not a majority. God, on the other hand, tells us that complete accountability is absolutely necessary, and each one of us has a date with it. Why? If we are ever going to be judged correctly everything must be looked at and taken into account. If there is any hope for complete justice everyone will have to stand and give a full account of everything to the only One who has the capacity to comprehend such knowledge, who holds the power over life and death, and who alone has always been completely accountable.

I know complete accountability damns me, and it damns you regardless of whether you acknowledge what God has clearly stated. You and I need help, more than that we need mercy and grace in the day of complete accountability, in the day of judgement (“Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God’ Romans 14:10 NLT). God will not spare us from compete accountability, from having to give a full account, he would have to cease to be just if he were to do so. Fortunately, God in his love has provided mercy and grace through Jesus Christ who has already considered all our sins, substituted himself into our place, paid the full penalty, satisfied the justice of God, and is able to rescue us from sure damnation and offer forgiveness, hope, and eternal life. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT); that is why Jesus is such good news for sinners awaiting complete accountability. Don’t enter God’s judgment without him!

             To God be all glory. Happy New Year, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

We have a way of changing the story, not just the Christmas story, but stories in general. This too, is what marks sinners. It happens every day, in editorial meetings, communications offices, courtrooms, lunch conversations, principals’ offices, telephone calls, press releases, leaks, history books and documentaries, and … The focus gets changed, facts are omitted, small details are exaggerated, emphases are shifted, fingers get pointed, personal and political agendas take hold and rearrange.

The birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, the redemptive plan of God centered in his Son Jesus Christ is a case in point. What has happened to Mary, the young woman whom God offered to become the mother of the Christ. We actually know precious little about her. How do you picture her? For the most part her story has been taken into three directions: 1. She is a demur young woman who is all but passive, holding up the baby Jesus to visitors and artist/photographers with a peaceful smile on her face. 2. She has been elevated to the status of semi-goddess. 3. She has been reduced to a fictional character in an utterly absurd religious story. All of these have changed the story.

Mary’s name means “obstinate, rebellious.” Her Old Testament name sake is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was anything but a demur soul, but rather outspoken, strong-willed, and quick-witted. God clearly saw Mary for more than breeding stock with the right blood line, he, above anyone else, knew that this young woman knew how to think, had inner strength, had a faith willing to take risks, was honest, and didn’t need the limelight. God invited her into his story and she volunteered herself, her body, and her life for life. And she didn’t change the story, her story – others did. She let the story be about Jesus, her life be about Jesus.

So, this Christmas, what have you done with the story, the truth of Jesus? How much have you changed it? Have you dismissed it? Have you replaced it with your own narrative? Have you reduced it to sentimental movie tradition, to a leggy lamp and a Red Rider BB gun? Has it become about your family instead of God’s family?

“Jesus Christ came into our world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), that is the unchanged story of Christmas. You and I can respond to it like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, …” (Luke 1:38), and from then on let our lives be about Jesus Christ, or we can to decide to do what sinners do, change the story, but only one can actually save you.

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

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Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

For sure I would’ve flunked the Ancient Eastern Astrological Society’s entrance exam, because my knowledge of the night sky does not extend past the Big Dipper and North Star. I would have completely missed Jesus’ cosmic birth announcement, and would have been a no-show. There would not have been any presents for Jesus if those wise men seeking to worship the King of the Jews would have had to rely on my astronomical skills.

I don’t think the shepherds living out with the sheep saw what the wise men saw either, even though they did spend a lot of time looking at the night sky. They too, just walking distance of Bethlehem, would have missed the birth of Christ.

I wonder how many Magi from the East didn’t make the journey? They saw the same star as the those traveled, maybe they were even consulted, maybe they thought their colleagues had strayed too far from astronomy to astrology? It’s one thing to observe and study the stars, it is quite another to read a divine message, a heavenly invitation out of the stars.

Do you, like me, wonder why God in his infinite wisdom thought it important to inform those shepherds and deliver a grand invitation to them? In fact, they were given the honor to be the first witnesses of the God incarnate, of God in the flesh.

What a contrast between those shepherds and the Magi from the East. Think about it: uneducated shepherds – learned wise men, men spending their nights outside with sheep – scholars sleeping on soft beds in fine houses, simple men who most likely never travelled more than fifty miles from home – men who had both the time and money to travel far, Jews – gentiles, subsistence sheep-herders – wealthy men with gifts fit for a king, men who wouldn’t be allowed to come close enough to smell the inside of a palace – emissaries who got an audience with king Herod on the spot. Yet both were invited to come and have a look, to see, in the flesh, the very Son of God. Neither would have anticipated receiving an invitation from God himself to come, see, know, and worship Jesus the Christ.

God is still inviting people, you, your family members, your friends, co-workers, neighbors, even your enemies, to come and see his Son, Jesus Christ, and follow him, believe in him, acknowledge him, worship him. It doesn’t matter if you have calloused or soft hands, smell like sheep or Hugo for Men™, if you are wealthy or dirt poor, educated or illiterate, rough or refined, important or obscure, religiously engaged or not. God, through the Holy Spirit and the Church (the body and bride of Christ) is still sending out Christmas invitation, The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say (respond), ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” Revelation 22:17 (NASB, parenthesis mine). And sometimes and invitation to follow, believe in, and worship Jesus looks a lot like a pastor’s note.

Consider yourself officially invited.

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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I have double confession to make: 1. I am not good at giving gifts. I love to help, be generous, but gift-giving is not my spiritual gift. 2. I am not very good at receiving gifts either, a weakness for sure. I am way too German/Schwaebisch, which means I am terrible with “Kitsch,” useless, knick-knack, cheap stuff. When it comes to gifts the running joke and question in my family is whether I am going to take things back and exchange them. I am slowly improving, thanks to intensive tutoring by Susie (my wife, who is super good at the gift and receiving of gifts thing), but progress has been very slow.

Christmas is about giving and receiving, specifically God giving and us receiving. Above anything else, this Christmas would you think about, contemplate God giving us the ultimate gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) and your response to this gift of Jesus Christ.

However, before reflecting on God’s “indescribable gift,” Jesus Christ, think about everything else you have received from God. Let’s start from the very beginning. Your life, your first heartbeat, your first breath, all the way to this present moment is a gift from God. Your ability to laugh, cry, feel, do good, think, and chose, are all things God gave to you and me. The characteristics that make you you and me me, whether it is our tenacity, courage, boldness, tenderness, kindness, intelligence, handiness, …, are from God as well. The “lucky breaks,” the opportunities, the things you survived, can also be traced back to the giving heart of God. The fact is you and I have received from God all our lives, from the very beginning until now. It makes no difference whether you acknowledge this fact or sneer at it, it still stands as the truth; the only difference is that acknowledging it will make you grateful and not doing so will render you ungrateful, acknowledging it will cause you to have an increasing sense of responsibility towards God, disavowing it will cause you to be blind in your responsibility towards God. It is not a matter of whether you have received from God all your life but whether your life expresses your gratitude towards God.

Esau (Genesis 25-27, 25:34, 27:38) was born before his twin brother Jacob, which, in his ancient culture, meant he also got the significant firstborn rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately, he could have cared less about these gifts from God (admittedly, it is often hard to think of responsibilities as gifts), so in a careless moment he literally sold his birthright for a pot of stew, for mere pocket change. And he regretted it bitterly when it was too late. How grateful and careful are you for and with all God has given you up to this point in your life?

Esau is not in lonely company when it comes to being ungrateful for what God gave him, being careless with what God entrusted to him, shirking the responsibilities God handed to him. He is not the only sinner, the only one who has blown it, the only one who exchanged God’s gifts for something far less. No, you and are sitting right next to him in this historical boat (Romans 3:23). Which brings us back to Jesus, back to Christmas, back to God’s greatest gift, the gift that can save sinners, the gift that can help ungrateful screwups like you and me find forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. But like all gifts, it won’t benefit you unless you receive it, in this case him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son, the Savior of the world.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Go” John 1:12 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Let’s get ready for Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

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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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