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Archive for the ‘servanthood’ Category

On the second Sunday of August 1984, the Lake Don Pedro Baptist Church, called me to be the interim pastor. Susie and I had no idea that this would become a 35-year love story of a pastor and his flock. We didn’t know that this would be only church our children would know growing up. We didn’t know how many people would come alongside us to encourage us, bless us, and love Jesus with us. We didn’t know much, period. But we did rejoice and were grateful. We still rejoice and are even more grateful.

 

When this, our church (it makes a big difference whether you think of a church as this church or our church) called us I was deeply struggling with church and becoming a minister because over the span of a year and a half I witnessed firsthand church dysfunction and preacher misconduct in four different churches. In spite of being a Bible college graduate and a call to ministry, I wasn’t sure I wanted any more of church – until I read Romans 14:12 in my personal morning Bible study, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (NASB). It didn’t matter what everyone else did, how they behaved or misbehaved, I am responsible to God for how I follow him, even if everything and everyone around me goes crazy. It was a watershed moment for me, and a few weeks later I was leading the Lake Don Pedro Baptist Church.

35 years is a lot of time to make mistakes and I have made my fair share of them. The bad thing is that church and pastor mistakes usually hurt people (Remember, the church is a fellowship, a spiritual family of people). If you read this pastor’s note and are one of those I have hurt, disappointed, or let down I ask for your forgiveness if I have not already done so. And, I thank God for all who confronted me, were gracious to me, had patience with me, and forgave me.

I praise God for all who have served with me over these years, for those sharing the same love for Christ, his church, and his kingdom. Besides the goodness and faithfulness of God, you’ve helped make 35 years possible. Like the apostle Paul, I can say, “I thank God for every remembrance of you.”

Our church officially called me to be the pastor but it also meant Susie was going to be the pastor’s wife and our children were going to be the pastor’s kids. All I can say that they, and especially Susie, have been awesome. They have shared the load and have made quiet sacrifices few know about. They have blessed me and our church.

The real reason I became a preacher was that Susie, before we ever dated, told me in a letter that she was going to marry a preacher one day. So, I figured the only way I was going to have a chance with her was to become a preacher. Not really! But at my birth, the midwife/nurse who delivered my two older brothers as well handed me to my mom and said, “This one will be a preacher.” Really!

Finally, to God be all glory. Thanks, your Pastor

 

 

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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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Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will. Mark 14:36 (HCSB)

We like it when things go according to our own way, plans, and desires, and when they don’t, we wish they would, complain, grow resentful, even bitter. Underlying this is the notion that the epitome of success is to have both the freedom and resources to do whatever we want to, to be able to grant our hearts desires free reign.

Interestingly, James in his letter, is especially hard on exactly those who have the means, the power, and the freedom to plan and do as they wish, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:13-17 (ESV). This kind of freedom, affluence, and opportunity is what we consider success and often call blessing, but it is also riddled with temptation:

  • The temptation to hold onto a wrong perspective of life.
  • The temptation to operate apart from, independently of God.
  • The temptation to be unconcerned about God’s will.
  • The temptation to be proud and arrogant, to overestimate ourselves.
  • The temptation to give ourselves too much credit.
  • The temptation to elevate doing our own thing over the right thing.

When we give in to these temptations, we forget that:

  • Life is about more than making a profit.
  • We do not control the future.
  • The importance of God and the doing of his will.
  • The very limited time we have to do what is right.
  • That we are prone to do evil.
  • Sin consists of both commission and omission.

The Apostle Paul cautioned the Galatian Christians, It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. Galatians 5:13 (MSG)  

Heavenly Father,

Hallowed be your name. Your will be done. Forgive us when we are consumed with our own honor, our own plans, our own comfort, that which both profits and pleases us most. Forgive us when we concern ourselves with your honor and will last and not first, when we treat you like an insurance or an emergency call station. Help us to commit our work and plans to you, to rely on you to establish us, to anchor ourselves, our plans, and all we do in your purposes (Proverbs 16:3, 9:21). Strengthen us when we are conflicted between what we want and what we know your will is, to, in that moment, be able to deny ourselves and trust you fully. Because we know only your kingdom will endure, you alone hold all power, and only you are fully deserving of all glory. Amen

Love you, Pastor Hans

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“Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will,” (Mark 14:36).

What I think is in my best interest might not be in your best interest, and what you think is in your best interest might not be in everybody else’s best interest. Today will not be much different from yesterday in the fact that the world over people will clash, siblings will have it out, husbands and wives will disagree, political factions will dispute, countries will be in turmoil internally and at war with each other.

We need very little training in exerting our wills, in claiming the high ground, in the kind of pride that asserts to know what is best. It is the beast within us trying to survive and thrive and have it easy that worships at the altar of self, that ignores morality, that breathes hubris. The mountain lion gives no thought whether it hunts deer to extinction. But we are not mere beasts, we are living souls created in God’s own image, capable of insight, foresight, moral contemplation, and acting out of more than self-interest and mere survival, of behaving honorably and godly. We are also fallen images of God, sinful souls from the moment we were conceived, under the reality of death. In the reality of death, the fear of losing out and survival become paramount, the interests of others are secondary, morality becomes a hindrance, the elevation of self is justified. In the end, however, we consume ourselves, we kill the tree that gives us life like mistletoe does to its host.

The greatest battles we fight are the ones were our wills clash with the interests of others, were our wills clash with the will of him who alone knows what is truly best for all, God. Our greatest battles are those where we must choose between acting like images of God or mere beasts, between trusting God’s will over our own.

Can we trust God’s will? Even if it includes losing out, suffering, death? And, hasn’t that kind of reasoning been used to lure people into evil religious radicalism and senseless martyrdom? The answer is, “Yes!” In our sinfulness and self-centeredness, we know how to pervert the good and right, to hijack the noble, to trample the godly. But it is also true that it was Jesus, the sinless one, who had not robed, harmed, abused, cheated, discarded, or lied to anyone, who prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours, Father (God),” when he had to decide between escaping suffering and death and what was in the best interest of all of mankind according to God’s omniscience, purposes, and will. When he had to decide between his fears and the resurrection power of God.

It was a struggle; clashes of wills usually are. Three times, in deepest turmoil of soul, Jesus wrestled the temptation to run, to settle for what would spare him. And so much hung in the balance. We too will struggle, we will have to sort it out, and much hangs in the balance.

 “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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“Follow me!” Jesus told Peter, Andrew, John, James, Levi, Matthew, … right down to you and me.  Did you notice? They never asked, “Where do we follow you to?” “How long do we follow you?” And, Jesus didn’t say, because the answers to these questions are implied, “Follow me, everywhere I go,” “Follow me, all the way into eternity.” That is a much further and a lot longer than we can imagine, but there is only one way to get there – following Jesus one day at a time, right down to our last day. Following Jesus is about following him today with the determination that, when we finally fall asleep tonight, we will get up and follow him tomorrow. Following Jesus daily requires at least three things:

  1. Letting go

“If you wish to be complete, … (let go of everything) and come, follow Me” Matthew 19:21 (NASB, parenthesis mine). It is foolishness to follow anyone or anything you can’t trust, and when it comes to eternity God/Christ is the only one we can trust. But we struggle with letting go, every bit as much as the young man Jesus was speaking to in the verse above. In order to follow Jesus today what do you need to let go of?

  1. Denying yourself

            “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me’” Luke 9:23 (NASB). If letting is hard, denying yourself is even harder. Sunday will be Palm Sunday; the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time. The crowds wanted to install him as king, but he knew they would sing a different tune in just a few days. He knew he would be dead, crucified before the week was up. What would you do if you had only a short time to live? Jesus didn’t get out his bucket list and book some flights, not because he didn’t want to, but because he was more concerned with living out the will of his Father/God. For that to happen he had to deny himself, walk past his fears, and embrace his cross. In order to follow Jesus today what cross do you need to carry?

  1. Hearing Jesus’ voice

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” John 10:27 (NASB). Have you ever had a conversation with your GPS on your car dash? Nah, not you! Have you ever ignored that voice because you knew a shortcut, a better route, only to have to pull over to recalibrate because you got yourself completely turned around? There are no shortcuts to eternity, to holiness, to godliness, to Christlikeness, you have to follow the only one who knows and is the way, you have to stay close enough to recognize and hear his voice, and you have to do what he says. It is the only way to “get there.” In order to follow Jesus today what is he clearly saying to you that you need to obey?

I have found that the less willing I am to let go, the more I refuse to deny myself, the more selective I become about following what Jesus is saying to me, and soon become a confused and tired sheep living by my own strength and wisdom and will, which bring me nowhere near eternity. Make this Easter a surrender, a renewal, a recommitment to follow Jesus all the way into eternity.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Follow me …” (Matthew 4:19, 9:9)

“His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.”  Matthew 5:1b-2 (NLT2)

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT2)

Are you an old dog who doesn’t want to learn anything new or are you young dog with an attention span measured in milliseconds? Most likely, you fall somewhere in-between, vacillating between motivated and disinterested.

Did you know that our whole planet, the entire universe is an invitation to learn, to discover things about God, wisdom, life, causes, beauty, color, how to, and so, so much more. And, God did not only issue the invitation to learn and discover, but he also gave us the capacities to acquire knowledge and wisdom. One thing we should remember though is, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” Proverbs 9:10 (NASB).

So, it should not surprise us when Jesus, God’s son, spent much time teaching those who answered his call to follow him. One of the essential expectations Jesus has of his followers it that they will be learners, that they allow him to teach them, regardless if they are an old tired hound dog, an over-energized puppy, a dog trained to listen to only German commands, or an untrained pooch spoiled to do whatever it wants.

Salvation is free, a single marvelous moment when the saving grace of God is poured out on a sinner simply for the asking. But that moment is to be followed by a life of following. And, if I want to be a serious follower I have great need to learn all that that Jesus thinks I need to learn, because holiness, godliness, God’s wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and Christlike habits, attitudes, and ways are all acquired, learned.

If I am honest, I have too much old, puppy, and spoiled dog in me. I am also a slow learner, and too often I go back to what I knew before I met Jesus, ignoring all he taught me. Maybe this describes you as well. The danger with that is, though this may be an accurate self-assessment, it is also a convenient way to let ourselves of the hook, to use it as an excuse for being a poor, lazy, stubborn student. Jesus doesn’t put up with that (Matthew 8:26, 16:8; Luke 12:28), he expects you and me to learn, to apply what he teaches, to let an ever increasing knowledge of him, of God, his word (the Bible), and our world to change us into his image and to conform us to his will. We are commanded to love God “with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), and that requires us to be life-long learners at the feet of Jesus.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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