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For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 (NIV)

If you are reading this pastor’s note it is safe to assume you awoke this morning. You also learned how to read sometime back, most likely because someone taught you. This means you have lived long enough to acquire the skill of reading and I am certain a few others as well. It also means you have had some opportunities, maybe many, and you will have more opportunities today. You also could have chosen not to read this p-note, but you didn’t (which makes me glad); no, you decided to read it, to give dergremanshepherd (the German Shepherd) a small voice in your life today. You have made lots of decisions like that throughout your life, and many of vastly more significance, and you will make more today.

The story of your and my life is a story of receiving, from its very inception until now, and it will remain so until the very end. It doesn’t matter whether we think we have received the short end of the stick, gotten the shaft, were born into bad circumstances, have suffered from injustice, are trapped in poverty, had few good breaks in life, … The very fact we are breathing today, that we have opportunities to make choices today, even if they seem limited, verifies that every single day we have opened our eyes we have received. This means that someone gave, someone was gracious to us, and none more so than God, than Jesus Christ, For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

The truth is there is no one who comes close to having given us as much as God, as Jesus has; there isn’t anybody from whom we have received more. You would think the whole world would line up each day to say, “Thank you,” to brag about the goodness and graciousness of God. So, have you? And have you accepted from God the gift he thinks you need the most, his son, Jesus Christ? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16 (NIV). You and I need Jesus Christ because we not only need daily grace to survive in the temporal, but we need God’s grace even more for the eternal, in fact we are completely dependent on it.

All this receiving equips us and ought to transform us into givers. Many of you reading this p-note went to work today. One of the great things about work is getting paid (Can I get an “Amen!”), and one of the great things of getting paid is that it enables a receiver to be a giver, In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” Acts 20:35 (NIV). Let’s do that today, turn our receiving into giving, turn our receiving into thanksgiving and praise to God and Christ. Let’s not stop with today, let’s turn it into a lifestyle, like God who has been giving to us all our life.

To God be all glory. 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

 

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”                                                                                            Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:38-42 (ESV)

Have you ever given thanks to God for not answering your prayer, for ignoring your request, for making you wait?

Jesus didn’t come when they wanted him to, instead he waited, delayed. He ignored their implied request to heal Lazarus, one of his best friends, he let him suffer and die. Nor did Jesus book a redeye flight to be there as soon as possible for Lazarus’ distraught and grieving sisters. It took him four whole days to show up, which meant he missed even the funeral.

When Jesus finally got there Lazarus’ two sisters said aloud what everyone else thought, “If you would have been there our brother would not have died” Luke 1:22&32). Ouch, no gratitude here, only accusation, confusion, and silently screaming “Why?” The Son of God who could have intervened didn’t; the Omnipotent who can, didn’t; what he did for others he didn’t do for his friends. Why in the world would he refuse to do what was obviously needed, use his power to heal, and instead responded with inactivity that said, “No?”

“Open the tomb! You’ve got to be kidding! Martha is right, there will be a stench. In fact, this whole situation stinks. He could have and should have done something, but he didn’t. And now he stands there and is thanking God! – this guy is unbelievable.”

Out of all the times in life when we are told, “No,” being told, “No,” by God is the most confusing, especially when our requests feel legitimate,  unselfish,  about good outcomes, and are out of deep desperation. We expect God to at least care as much as we do.

What if Jesus would have acquiesced, had come in a hurry, had healed Lazarus, had kept him out of the grave, had said, “Yes,” to their requests and did things the way they had wanted him to. They would have known him less. They would have been condemned to a life of desperate calls for Jesus (God) to hurry, to fix, to bail out. They would have been stuck with an “Ambulance Jesus.” They would have continued in the same old fears. They would have been deprived of a glimpse of who he really is, “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26).

It is a great scene, isn’t it, when Jesus tells four-days-dead-and-decomposing Lazarus to “Come forth!” and then instructs them to take the burial clothes off him (John 11:44-45). Can you imagine the amazement, the joy, the awe? It would not have happened without Jesus waiving their initial request, without Jesus willing Lazarus to die, without Jesus waiting for days before showing up.

We think the best thing is when God answers our prayers the way we think is best, but it infinitely better when God responds to our petitions and requests, no matter how desperately we feel, the way he thinks is best, including him saying, “No, child.” How thankful I am that he not only knows what is best but also does what is best, undaunted by our expectations, frustration, desperation, pain, and confusion.

To God be all glory. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.” Psalm 103:19 (NLT)

How did we end up here, you and I, here in Don Pedro, La Grange, Coulterville, Greeley Hill, in California, in the United States? How did you get here wherever you read this? Born here, moved here, fled here, or immigrated? Had relatives living here, for work, for retirement, to raise a family away from city troubles, because the houses were affordable? Or maybe you are still wondering?

Regardless of the reasons, obviously we did end up here, in this place, this state, and this country. It might have been the result of our own choices or we might have had little or nothing to do with it, and still we are here together. We might not even like each other, although it would be much better if we did. We might have vastly different political views, values, interests, and beliefs, and nevertheless are globbed together here.

If we are not careful we can think that life is merely accidental, or that we are where we are and what we are solely because of our own choices. Thanksgiving is, among other things, a reminder that this not so. The Pilgrims along with many of the founding Fathers of our country believed, and rightly so, in providence, a word largely lost in our present culture, thinking, and discourse. Believing in providence acknowledges the reality of God, his existence, his guidance, his care, his power shaping and sustaining history, and that we play a part in both the receiving and the shaping ends of providence.

Divine providence is a great truth, it helps us to see life and each other differently, it pushes us towards humility, it forces us to live with greater responsibility, and causes us to be thankful and to give God praise. Remember the Thanksgiving story you learned in Kindergarten? It is a story of providence (and maybe explains why some want to purge it from being taught). A brutal, harsh winter, starvation, a kind Native American doing what is right, a bountiful harvest, a feast, and the giving of thanks to God.

Of course you and I can chose to go the opposite direction, to ignore both God and our neighbor, to laugh at the notion of providence, to shirk its responsibilities, to abhor the sacrifices it calls us to make, and instead live mostly for ourselves. It won’t make us better, but poorer. It won’t make us happier, but more cynical and afraid.

So, as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, look around at the people sitting at your table, next door neighbors, those living in your community, and the people near and far who for some reason have been placed in your life. They are the people God has put you with, they are your responsibility, you have the ability to do what is good and right for them and us together, you can help them, bless them, you can engage with them in such a way that their lives are better because of you, and you can be an instrument in the hands of God to such an extent that it will cause us to thank and praise God together.

Now that you have read this far would you please pause for a moment and either silently or out loud say a prayer thanking God for all the good, all of the blessings you have received and enjoyed this past year, and then ask God to use you for the good and benefit of the people among whom he has placed you, to be an instrument of his providence, to be someone for whom others are grateful and give thanks to God.

To God be all glory. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Pastor Hans

On Monday I was driving past Merced Junior College on Yosemite Avenue. On the front lawn there was a display of rows and rows of American flags in preparation for Veterans Day. It caused me to slow down and remember how much I have benefited from the service of American soldiers. Before I was born, it was American servicemen and women who turned the tide against Hitler’s plans of evil and world tyranny; it was American soldiers who safeguarded a completely unarmed and vulnerable West Germany from the spread and domination of Soviet communism. It was American military might that was the deterrent throughout the Cold War and afforded me to grow up with all the liberties that Americans hold dear. All these many veterans have impacted my life; have afforded me choices I might not otherwise have had.

Driving by the Veterans Day flag memorial I also thought of the American Army Soldiers my Dad invited into our home to spend Christmas with us. It was a program sponsored by the nearby army base. My Dad always requested a black soldier because for one they were harder to place and because he wanted us grow up with less prejudice than he did. He wanted us to see beyond skin color, something that became important to him through his involvement with the YMCA in the early post WWII years. Remember there was still a draft in those years. Those young men might have served for all kinds of reasons, and certainly they little or nothing to do with the larger political machinations that impacted and determined their lives, but neither did I. What I do know is I have immeasurably benefited from their lives and service.

Now I am old enough to run into veterans whom I taught in school, coached in basketball or soccer, took to camps, and/or pastured as they grew up in Don Pedro. I have brother-in-laws who have retired from military service. I have talked with, counseled, and pray with Veterans with deep scars and burdens. I lead a little church and Sunday after Sunday there are Veterans who come to worship to pray, to learn to live like Jesus. I have a sense of indebtedness, of deep gratitude because of the impact they have had on my life, my family, my opportunities, and my safety.

It is easy to forget how deeply we are tied to history, to who and what came before us, to forget how intertwined our lives are with the lives of others right now; to forget that much of the good and best in our lives is connected to the service of others; to forget how much we benefit from battles others have fought; to forget God has assigned us all to be contributors to history and will hold us accountable as such; to forget to be grateful and contribute ourselves to a better world, to freedom, to safety, to justice, to civic courage, and to honor. So I give thanks to God for each Veteran who has and is contributing like that; may God bless you.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

Who would you trust with to cut on you with a scalpel? Would you trust me with operating on you? If you did, it would be utter foolishness, since I have had zero medical training, I have never been taught how to yield a scalpel, nor have I ever practice the use of one. Chances are high that if you let me lose on you, you will be severely injured, you will end up scarred, maimed, and handicapped, with a very high probability of you dying.

If something needs to be sewed around the Frei household, it will be Susie doing the sowing. Why? Because she’s acquired sowing skills. Anything I’d sow you would either quietly smile at or outright burst into laughter. On the other hand, when it comes to working on our cars I have more skill and practice than she does. If she started wrenching she might make things worse.

Paul reminded the young preacher Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB). The word “accurately” can also translated correctly or skillfully, as in cutting something straight, building something plumb, plowing in straight lines. The Apostle Paul was keenly aware that mishandling the word of God, the scriptures, the Bible, can greatly injure people or make the truth laughable. He understood the scriptures to be sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), cognizant that, “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” Hebrews 4:12 (NIV). He wanted Timothy to not forget that the Bible is designed to work deeply within the human heart, mind, and soul and therefore needs to be handle with skill, with care, and with precision, none of which are acquired by just inspiration but by diligence, study, and practice.

Traveling over the three continents the past three weeks I was deeply grieved over how much careless, lazy, manipulative, and crooked preaching and teaching I encountered. I was struck again how little discernment listeners in churches showed; how many mistake charisma, hype, slogans, emotional engagement and personal agreement, with truth, sound teaching and preaching, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. My heart weeps for those who are being used, abused, wounded, misled, and made dependent by careless, deceptive, and unskilled handling of God’s word by those, preachers and teachers, who have been tasked to bless, correct, equip, strengthen, and liberate people with God’s word. And as God would have it I found myself reading the pastoral epistles (1&2 Timothy, Titus) while traveling, being reminded of my own responsibility to accurately, diligently, carefully, skillfully, and faithfully preach and teach the written word of God.

How good are you in discerning good biblical preaching and teaching from lousy, shallow, manipulative, and outright deceptive preaching and teaching? How do you learn to discern the difference? You have to read things for yourself, you need to learn basic principles of solid biblical interpretation (biblical hermeneutics) yourself. I encourage you to be more careful as to whom you give permission to yield the scalpel of the word of God than you are picking the surgeon operating on your body, because the consequences are greater.

To finish this pastor’s note let me tell you about Ray, Hans, and Tom and operating a chainsaw. I loved Ray, but I didn’t come anywhere near him when was operating a chainsaw, he was downright dangerous to himself and anyone around with a chainsaw in his hand. I was aware of the dangers because I have learned to operate a chainsaw correctly, in fact I have gained some decent chainsaw skills. However, my chainsaw skills are nowhere near Tom’s. So, there have been times I called on him to help me because I knew I needed his skills or else endanger myself and others. Right now, you might be a Ray when it comes to accurately handling the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and you might never become as skilled as Tom, but you can acquire enough skill to be like Hans enabling you to discern dangerous preaching and teaching from trustworthy and outstanding preaching and teaching; what to stay away from and what to embrace; whom to dismiss and whom to trust.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

Dear Church Family,

As it is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I happen to be married to the pastor, I’d like to share some things about your pastor that you may, or may not know.  Mostly, I’d like to encourage you to pray for my husband.  He has been hard at it for over 33 years now.  We’ve raised our four children and other’s children during these years.  Raising our kids, learning how to do ministry, continuing our education, working other jobs, being involved in community and church life… it all adds up to a heap of experience, heartache, challenges, disappointment, loss, friendships, farewells, and abundant joys.  As a pastor in a rural community with only one church, Hans has been called upon to do an assortment of things over the years.  Many of these activities would never be on the resume of a typical city pastor, however, Hans has been called upon as a pastor to do:

  • Mechanic work
  • Garbage pick-up
  • Yard work
  • Handyman
  • Counselor
  • Personal shopper
  • Local park security watch
  • Recycler
  • Mover
  • Clean-up after a move
  • School Teacher
  • Coach (basketball, soccer)
  • Painter
  • Animal control (wild Bobcat kittens, dying goat, etc.)
  • Conflict Manager
  • Song writer
  • Musician
  • Property repossession
  • Driver
  • Academic tutor
  • Rattlesnake exterminator
  • Community meeting facilitator
  • Gardner
  • Tree faller
  • Wood cutter

And, of course, his normal pastoral duties: preach, teach, counsel, administrative, hospital visits, jail visits, youth work, worship, service planning, write pastor’s note, funerals, missions, camp, VBS, baptisms, and weddings.  Hans does all these things well, humbly, quietly, sincerely, without fan-fare or needing recognition.  He loves God’s work, God’s church, and God’s kingdom agenda.  You and I are beyond blessed to have him as our pastor.  And my encouragement to you, as his church family, is to pray for him, remind him to take time for rest, share your blessings with him, and let him know you appreciate him.  Not just during the month of October, but when you find yourself needing your pastor and he’s there, as he has been for 33 years.

Grace be with you,

Susie Frei

 

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