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Archive for the ‘worship’ Category

Palm Sunday Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
Matthew 1:23 (HCSB)

 I tried to console her, but she informed me through her sobbing, “I just need my Mama.” Her older sister at her age was more demanding, “I want Mommy!” In either case Dad wouldn’t do, wasn’t the one needed or wanted.

Lovers know the feeling of, “I want to be with you forever and ever,” and often quickly change to, “I never want to see you face again!”

Some people you can’t wait to be with, while with others we are perfectly fine if they don’t show up. Some people’s presence is like a shot in the arm, an automatic lift, sheer joy, others are real challenges, drags, and some are pure downers. Some folks’ mere presence inspires, cause you to dare, to dream, while some cause you to doubt, to tip-toe, and at times feel like you are in a nightmare. With some you are overjoyed when they arrive, while with others you wonder, “When are they going to leave?”

It makes a difference who you’re with. You’d think people run to be with God, especially when he shows up “in the flesh,” when he takes the time to meet you on your turf. But the exact opposite is true, God it turns out is intimidating, challenging, and frightening t us, even when appearing as a baby. The Apostle Peter’s first encounter with Jesus Christ caused him to exclaim, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Think about it, how sexually promiscuous are you going to be with God right there? Would you throw your usually temper tantrum or would you exercise greater self-control with God next to you? How dishonest would you be in your business dealings with Jesus sitting right there at the table? Would the quality of your work improve working side by side with God? Would you treat your wife and children different in front of God? Would you clean up your mouth, be more patient, less full of it in the presence of God? How would your party plans change if you were certain that God would show up in the flesh? If Jesus were to be physically right beside us would there be a gap be between how he and we talk about and treat the poor, the immigrants, those with different skin colors, homosexuals, and even our enemies? Having God around stifles the sinners sinning. It is bothersome enough to have your conscience prick you, but when God’s right there our conscience wants to rejoice and do flips while our sin ducks and hides, wondering, “When is he going to leave?”

God is holy, glorious, perfect, even when compressed into human flesh that did not change. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God incarnate, God with us, was tempted and tried – “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). God’s holiness, God’s glory, the light of his presence exposes sin, strips you, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” Hebrews 4:13 (NLT). Jesus always has known what is every person’s mind and heart (John 2:25). Immanuel sees right through us, all our excuses, cover-ups, making jokes about our sinfulness, declaring God’s backwardness and our rightness, and our own wisdom and self-reliance evaporate in his presence. We are forced to choose to either worship him or reject him, to proclaim him or deny him, to genuinely follow him or settle for just being religious.

In spite of our qualms “God with us” is incredible God news. It means God has come looking for us, God deeply cares about us, God has made a way to be “with him,” and he is eternal. “He (Jesus Christ/God) came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” John 1:11-14 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Making our way around Glasgow I couldn’t help but be reminded of Christianity’s powerful past influence, the effects of John Knox and the Reformation, and the wealth generated by the British empire and the industrial revolution. Large, imposing church structures still dot the skyline. An enormous statue of John Knox dominates the “Necropolis”, a Victorian era cemetery that is like nothing I had ever seen.

On Sunday morning we worshiped with a Baptist congregation around the corner from where we were staying. They had just finished their version of Vacation Bible School, and the place was packed. That afternoon we toured the Glasgow Cathedral. The sound of the mighty pipe organ and a small choir filled the place. They were practicing for the regular afternoon service about to start. We sat down to worship there as well.

Everything about a cathedral makes you feel small, the sheer size of the structure, the front doors, the pillars, the high ceilings, the booming sound of the organ demanding you to listen. The stained-glass windows are tall spectacles of color, telling stories, filling the room with light from above. They are placed high on the walls, keeping you from looking out, or even looking around, but drawing to look up.

I loved sitting there, listening, hearing the Scripture read, joining in the singing, feeling small, reminded of the majesty of God and that he dwells in a “Cathedral” (Temple) not made by human hand (Acts 17:24). It was also strange. Strange because only a few people present in the cathedral bothered to sit down, were interested in worship. All through the service tourists scuttled about, admiring what man had built, without thought for whom and what is built.

A number of these old church structures no longer house a congregation. One of them had been converted to a bar and restaurant, another housed a mosque, one was a visitor center, and some stood empty. This is not only true of Glasgow but all around Europe and the United States, and it saddens me. Yes, these structures are enormously expensive to maintain, the old pews or chairs are really uncomfortable, and they make you feel small, even insignificant. But they used to house congregations who met there to worship, to hear the word of God, to pray.

It is not only the buildings that are difficult to maintain. In fact, they still stand long after the congregations that inhabited them have died. The fellowship, the spiritual family, the people who constitute a church, who are a living expression of the body of Jesus Christ, are a much more fragile thing. Living things are generally more fragile than wood and stone. This is why the Gospels, every letter, and all the authors of the New Testament remind us to diligently maintain the faith and the community of faith, to strive and work together for the glory of God, to build up the body of Christ, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, to practice holiness, to engage in spiritual accountability, to encourage, care for, and love each other. Our experience of coming together, of being the church, should cause members and visitors alike to look up, to be humbled, to worship.

 “I (Paul), … beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” Ephesians 4:1-6 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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We not Me is what Jesus prayed for all those who would trust him for salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, for those who would believe in him, follow him, and be identified with him, for all who claim to be Christian, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” John 17:9-11, 20-23 (ESV)

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we see for the first time what the “we” the “one” Jesus prayed for looks like, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to (the) fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had” Acts 2:41-44 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

A Christian who claims the “me” is enough ignores what Jesus prayed for all those who follow him. Someone who does not belong to local expression of the body of Christ, a local church and does not participate in its life practices the opposite of what Christians did from the very beginning. A believer who does not love the church does not love what Christ loves, “… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25 (ESV). God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” Ephesians 3:10-11 (NIV). And Jesus made it plain that in living out the “we” we become properly identified as his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:35 (NIV).

Being a ‘spiritual house” and a “holy priesthood” is a “we” concept “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NKJV). A belief in Christ’s return and a coming judgment should cause us to an increasing embrace of the “we”, a greater connection to Christ’s fellowship, a growing desire to worship, pray, serve, and torbe together, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV). Did you notice all of the “we”, “us”, and ”one another” in that last scripture? So what is your habit when comes to the “we” of being a Christian? Are you, a “living stone”, cemented together with other “living stones” in the community where God has placed you? Does your commitment to Christ and his fellowship encourage others? Does your involvement with Christ’s church make it stronger? O how I hope it does.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you are searching for that that last minute or super special Christmas gift you might want to consider having a star named for the person you have on your mind. You can choose between an “Ordinary Star” (from $19.95), and “Extra Bright Star” (from $39.95), or a “Binary Star” (from $64.95). If you want go all out with this idea you can go with the gift sets (from $74.95, $84.95, $124.94 respectively).  You could join 17,000 others who plunked their money down to have someone’s name attached to a real star by this independent, albeit unofficial, star registry. Yes, you could brighten someone’s Christmas Day, more accurately night, in a way they never imagined. And if you ever misplace or lose your “Star Deed” you can contact the good folks at STARNAME Registry.org and they will help you. I am sure the passing along of this ordinary, extra, or double “bright idea” will be another reason why you so value my Pastor’s Notes.

I wonder. How much money have stars generated over time? How many other clever star schemes have people come up with? Astrology is alive and well even today, and suckers are still being borne every day. But the stars themselves, the universe as a whole does declare truth, The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” Psalm 19:1 (NLT); “The heavens proclaim his righteousness; every nation sees his glory” Psalm 97:6 (NLT); “The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse (for not acknowledging and worshiping God)” Romans 1:19-20 (MSG, parenthesis mine).

Regardless of the tendency of sinful human nature to either exploit and pervert spiritual things or to disregard God and explain him away, the testimony of the stars stands, God is real, his power and wisdom are both incomprehensible and immense, we are accountable to him, and the most proper response to God is to love, worship, and obey him. “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 star was visible to anyone who cared to look, but it seems people came to vastly different conclusion and vastly different responses. Most wise men from eastern lands stayed home, kept peddling the same astrology they had for centuries, it is difficult to adjust yourself to spiritual truth. King Herod saw the very notion of a new king as a threat his godless world of politics and power, it is difficult to submit to divine authority. The Jewish elite and scholars did not want their personal, political, and religious world be turned upside down, so they also gave it no significance, it is difficult to take God at his word.

For this Christmas I challenge you to look up into the night sky and see and hear its declaration of God, to pursue spiritual truth, to lead you to worship. If you follow that path it will still lead you to Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the ultimate revelation of God, the one who can save us from our sins.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. If you are tempted to go the Star Registry website, RESIST! Instead look for ways to give those $20-100 or so to your church, a missionary agency, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, World Vision, Compassion International, or help someone in your community, or find a way to help the millions of refugees of our day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One suitcase of our two piece luggage allowance was dedicated to transporting materials, video equipment, printed materials, seminar supplies, children’s ministry resources, and a guitar. All of it we planned to use and leave behind with our Tanzanian ministry partners.

We didn’t return with less. We simply shared that of which God has given us an abundance but in return God, through our Tanzanian ministry partners, packed bags for us we did not even have to carry. We were part of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers a long time ago, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need 2 Corinthians 8:14 (NIV). And we experienced the dynamics Paul described, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the sur
passing grace God has given you” 2 Corinthians 9:12-14 (NIV).

It will take us some time to unpack all God has sent us home with. As we do the blessing will be multiplied and shared with all of you who gave, helped, and prayed to fill the bags we went with. Now we get to unpack together and rejoice in all that God has sent home with us, the experiences, the encouragement, faith that has blossomed and grown, the awe of what God can do with what little we have when we are willing to surrender it for his use and to his glory.

In the end we end up at the foot of the cross, looking up, in awe, filled with praise, wanting to worship, “Giving thanks to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV).

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

 

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And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

Getting married is easy, declare your love, pop the question, set the date, get the license, plan the party, and say, “I Do.” But what comes after is a lifetime of being married, of being a spouse. Making a baby is easy and fun (If you are wondering how? Have your Dad, Mom, Grandpa, or Grandma explain it to you). But what comes after is a lifetime of being a parent. Getting saved, being reconciled to God, and having your sins forgiven is easy. You simply have to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the one who can save you, reconcile you, and forgive you. But what comes after is a lifetime of being a believer.

Once you get married, once you put a baby into this world, and once you become a Christian the question is, “And so what kind of spouse and lover, what kind of Mom or Dad, what kind of follower of Jesus are going to be?” Of course that doesn’t depend on what has already transpired but on what you do, what you value, how you think, and how you live in the present. And the present is continual, ongoing.

What are the chances of having a great marriage after a beautiful wedding if you don’t spend any time together, if you are disengaged, if you don’t maintain trust, if you don’t share values, and if you make lousy decisions? What kind of parent are you if the words sporadic, inconsistent, immature, and self-centered describe you? What kind of believer, disciple of Christ are you going to be if what happened when you were mercifully, graciously, and gloriously saved does not show itself in the ongoing present of the rest of your life?

In the letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul spends 11 chapters (I would love for you to get out Bible and read those chapters) explaining salvation: That all have sinned, that all have a need to be saved, that sinner can be forgiven and be saved from the judgment of God and the ultimate penalty of sin, death and hell through the atoning work and power of Jesus Christ. But once you have believed in and have called on Christ to save you, once you are saved, what then? That is what the rest of the Paul’s letter is about.

“And so” now that you are professing believer (brother and sister is a way believers see each other and often refer to each other, because through Christ they have become members of God’s family, John 1:12-13) this is how you become a good one, a life-long one, one worth emulating. There are two absolute essentials:

  1. You daily, continually offer yourself to God out of sheer gratitude. You see everything you involve yourself in as an opportunity to please, glorify, and worship God. Bringing yourself day after day as an “acceptable” sacrifice is above all an act of worship.
  2. You let God change the way you think by learning what he thinks, what he values, and what he loves. You let him teach you through his word (the Bible) how he looks at things and the ways he does things. And as you do you incorporate that back into point #1.

Here is an incredible reality, anyone who dares to live out his/her salvation in Christ based on the two core principles found in Romans 12:1-2 will end up being a better husband, better wife, better Mom, better Dad, better son, better daughter, better friend, better neighbor, and better human being. Oh I am for that!

And so, by all means make sure you are saved, and then live like you are saved.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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