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Pastoral Thanks

My Church, My Family in Christ,

I have never been a great fan of Halloween, although I did drive my kids and their friends around to collect candy. Jacob Kluding might recall the first time he went with us as a little kangaroo, which was a hit on the cuteness scale, which in turn meant he had the largest candy haul I had ever seen. He might also remember the inebriated lady in a nightgown who opened the door and fell out in slow motion like a swooning ghost and the only reason she didn’t crash to the ground was a handful of kids propping her up. Funny? Yes. Memorable? For sure! But nowhere near as meaningful as Thanksgiving, especially the actual giving of thanks.

I thank God for you my church family. I am blessed to serve you as your pastor. I am thankful you treat me with grace, with generosity, with goodness, and gratefulness. If I am honest, I am amazed you have put up with me for as long as you have, but I am ever so glad you did. I would have crashed and burned a long time ago were it not for a long line of you who helped me, encouraged me, bore the load with me, challenged me, taught me, cheered me on, validated me, and diligently prayed for me. Thank You.

I have been encouraged a time or two to write down the stories of my long journey with you and of being a pastor here in Don Pedro. It would have to have a chapter of the plain weird and strange, of animal calls that seminary did not prepare me for, of more I wasn’t prepared for, of trials and disappointments, of the mysterious, the glorious, the inexplicable, of brothers and sisters, of heard prayers, and much more. But above all it would be a thankful book, dripping with gratitude for deep bonds, rich love, and living and ministering in Christ together.

I cannot tell you how often I drive onto the church campus am already blessed by seeing people serve in all kinds of ways or hear stories of church members living out Christ during the week that make me proud to be their brother and pastor.

This week Monica Sult deserves some special thanks for not only spearheading the Community Thanksgiving Dinner but also filling in at the church office for Jannett.

Matt and Wendy Garcia have taken on the youth ministry leadership role earlier in the year. Talk about a major commitment. They deserve three cheers, our thanks, our support, and our prayers.

This pastor’s note would get far too long if tried to name everyone but here are a few more of our brothers and sisters who have taken on responsibilities and stepped into service opportunities: Beverly, Jose’ and Beatrice, Russ, Security Team members, Jerry, the other Jerry, Merle, Bill, Jacob, Suzette, Ray. Thank You!

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christians at the Ballot Box – Voting with Your Ballot, Voting with Your Life

Christians throughout history have gotten into hot water because being a Christian means being a citizen of heaven, of the kingdom of God, with Christ as king, “… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ …” Philippians 3:20 (ESV). We value this citizenship above all others and our allegiance to Christ and his kingdom supersedes all other allegiances we might have. This is why Christians have been accused of treason and being disloyal to their country and earthly citizenship(s). This is why Christians have disobeyed laws that violated the laws and values of the kingdom of God and Christ the King. This is why the followers of Jesus have refused to blindly hitch their wagon to particular political movements, and never feel fully comfortable and at home until the return of our king. This is why true followers of Jesus seek his approval and the implementation of his will in all and above all else and are willing to pay the price this allegiance exacts in its interactions with the kingdoms and authorities of this world.

I am privileged to hold two earthly citizenships (United States and German); both of them are coveted by people around the world. It says something when people want to come to our land and neighborhoods. It means we are privileged and blessed to have abundance, opportunity, liberty, and a measure of peace, otherwise they would not want to come. According to the values of our heavenly citizenship that gives both the opportunity do good and the responsibility to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

The Apostle Paul also held two earthly citizenships (Jewish and Roman). The one that was coveted in his day was Roman Citizenship. The Bible records a conversation between Paul and a Roman Commander who was about to treat and punish him like Non-Roman, “The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he answered. Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied (Acts 22:27-28 (NIV). Obviously, his Roman citizenship was advantageous to Paul and he did not hesitate to make use of what it afforded him, it was a privilege that he was born into, he was blessed with, and one which he did not abuse but instead used for the purposes of God. Neither his Jewish heritage and citizenship nor his Roman citizenship were his highest allegiance, his heavenly citizenship was. In fact, he didn’t think that they even came close to comparing (Read all of Philippians 3). In the end, it was his allegiance to Christ and his heavenly citizenship that brought him into conflict and cost him his life. He rightly thought it was worth it.

Hopefully, you will take your earthly/US citizenship seriously enough fulfill the responsibility of your right to vote come November 6th, but when you fill out your ballot, do so as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, reflecting the will and honor of Christ and his kingdom.

To God be all glory. Vote! Pastor Hans

 

 

Choose the Cross

For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Jesus Christ), and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself by making peace through the blood of His cross— whether things on earth or things in heaven. Colossians 1:19-20 (HCSB, parenthesis mine)

 

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14 (NLT2)

 As a kid I saw my fair share of castles. Three things trumped everything else, the armory with all the swords, lances, fighting clubs, and other weapons, the dungeon way down in the bowels of the castle mount, and, usually not far from the dungeon, the torture chambers with its diabolical instruments. We were too young to imagine the real horror that went on in these places, although at times I would have liked to put one of my brothers in the iron maiden or on the stretching rack.

We can’t imagine the reality of ancient crosses any more than young boys chasing around the horrible places of old castles. We know of gallows, shooting squads, guillotines, electric chairs, lethal injections, all which are meant to execute and kill quickly. Crucifixion, on the other hand, was designed to prolong, to inflict pain, to publicly humiliate, to be terrible and violent, and only eventually snuff out life. Terrible what we are capable of.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God in the flesh died on a Roman cross after sham trials, being beaten to a pulp and publicly mocked. He was substituted for a convicted criminal and terrorist. He did not summon his followers to violent counter strikes, he refused to unleash the armies of heaven, instead, the most innocent of all who ever lived submitted himself to the will of God, the treachery of evil men, and death on a cross, which was a cursed ending among the Jews.

He died there for you and me, to reconcile sinners like us to God. It’s ironic, isn’t it, total innocence suffering and dying on one of mankind’s cruelest inventions. The giver of life laying down his life for the dying. The sinless one paying for the sins of others. That’s what happened on the cross Jesus died on. The symbol of death, of fear, unforgiveness, and of mankind’s evil became the symbol of life, hope, forgiveness, and God’s love. “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.  As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”  So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” 1 Corinthians 1:18-20 (NLT2).

 You and I cannot be reconciled and have peace with God apart from the crucified Christ. We must decide whether we trust the message of the cross or ourselves. Choose the cross!

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10)

We know infinitely less about God than we know about him, so, it is not surprising for us to be puzzled and perplexed by him, to often have more questions than answers. But what little we do know is amazing, glorious, and sometimes flat-out frightening. We could say the same thing about the universe, but we would make a mistake to let that lead us to equate the universe with God, as some do. God is infinitely greater than the entire universe and all of our current knowledge combined. This reality makes the fact of God caring about you and me, thinking about you and me, seeking an eternally loving relationship with you and me, all the more amazing.

John Newton the vile slave trader turned pastor got it right when he penned the words to the now famous song “Amazing Grace.” We do not understand the scope of the grace of God but we do know that it is manifold, multi-faceted, more amazing than we can comprehend. Without it John Newton could not have escaped his human wretchedness, could never have found forgiveness for his sins, had no chance to escape the judgment of God and hell, had not an ounce of hope for eternity and heaven, but neither could you and I.

God was gracious to John Newton, and to us, long before he realized it. However, after he experienced God’s saving grace he recognized the grace of God in his past, his present, and future. He learned that he could depend on the grace of God to work for good in this life, that it protected him, kept him, and was transforming him. (This might be a good time to look up “Amazing Grace” on your computer and read it for yourself or listen to it).

Let me end this pastor’s note by quoting Ephesians 2:1-10 (MSG, parenthesis mine):

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work (you are saved by grace through faith in Christ). All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

Be merciful, even as your Father (God) is merciful.” Luke 6:36 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

You may not give a rat’s behind about God, you may be might be totally anti-God, you might have nothing but scorn and cynicism when it comes to God and religion, you might be angry and mad at God, you might wonder “What has God ever done for me?”, you might be completely frustrated or confused regarding God, but there has never been a morning God’s mercy did not greet you, there has never been a day God has not been merciful toward you, there has never been a night God shut off his mercy towards you and me.

I wonder how many in the crowd Jesus was speaking to shook their heads in response to what he was teaching here, what he was laying out as not being optional. The local and national politics were merciless, life for many felt merciless, the rumor mill was merciless. That crowd was made up rich and poor, sick and healthy, comfortable and desperate, mean and kind, perpetrators and victimized, violent and peaceful people. “You are all meant to be merciful, you are expected to be merciful,” is what he told them all. At the end of the sermon Jesus made it clear that treating people right, being merciful is integral to having a solid life-foundation. A life lacking in compassion, goodness, and mercy is a life built on sand no matter how impressive it looks like (Luke 6:46-49).

Be merciful, even as your Father (God) is merciful” Luke 6:36 (ESV, parenthesis mine), declares that we are capable of being merciful, demands that we act merciful, and defines to what extent we are to be merciful. In the larger context, Jesus makes it clear that being merciful entails more than being nice to those who love us because that is what God does every day (verse 35). Jesus also highlights 6 specifics when it comes to being merciful like God:

  • Loving your enemies (those we don’t like).
  • Doing good to ungrateful, even evil people.
  • Lending to help instead of gaining.
  • Refraining from judging and condemning.
  • Pardoning – forgiving.
  • Giving – being generous.

Which of these do you struggle with the most? Who do you struggle with the most in terms of being merciful to him, her, them in terms of these specifics?

In his mercy, God does all of the above and more and we are called to follow suit. I’ll be honest with you, it is super challenging, but it is not optional for all who are serious about following Jesus, who are looking for a better life, who are dreaming of a better world.

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

 

 

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

“Daddy’ll fix it!” But it doesn’t take much to put Dad in the company of the king’s horses and men. There are toys no amount duct tape or super glue will fix. Worse yet, is the belly-up goldfish from the fair, the feet to the sky parakeet, or the rigamortised hamster.  Some things are beyond fixing, a hopeless mess.

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT2).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” Romans 15:13 (NIV).

It is one of the most puzzling questions and source of great frustration why our Heavenly Father, God Almighty, who can heal the lame, deliver the possessed, and raise the dead, doesn’t fix it all? Why does the God of hope, the one who tells us to hold hope as core value and virtue, why does he expose us to the pain of hopelessness and doesn’t prevent the brokenness in first place? Many have crashed on the cliffs of this conundrum, declaring that God is either impotent or unloving or both and as such he is less than he claims, an imposter, a farce. And once someone has gone down that path and accepted these conclusions the claim that we do not understand all of God’s ways, that they are higher than our intellect allows rings double hollow, unacceptable. This, of course, has at least one problem. It requires God to be higher, better, mightier than we are in order to be God but he has to prove himself to be such according to our assessment. If God is really God, and he is, then by his very essence, his very nature his thoughts and ways are far beyond ours, that is not a cheap cop-out but just reality.

However, the reality that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), all-wise, just, good, holy, righteous, and loving in all he does does not anesthetize all of our pain, clear up all of our whys, insulate us from frustration, or keep us from all anger. It certainly has not done so for me. But it does give us hope, both for the future and for today.

Hope is a powerful thing, even the tiniest sliver of it. That is why it is easily exploited, why false hope sells, gets votes, and finds easy prey. Hope keeps looking for a good outcome, for healing, restoration, reconciliation, peace, family, freedom, success, prosperity, justice, and love. The greater the absence of these and the darkness and pain of this absence the more we are willing to cling to the thinnest, most fragile branch of hope. Have you ever witnessed or experienced that last sliver of hope fading away, that fragile twig snap, and the dissolution, the numbness, the resignation, the depression, darkness, and hopelessness that follows? It is a gut-wrenching thing. There is, however, a hope that “does not disappoint” in spite of suffering, affliction, tribulation, trials, and hardship experienced for a long, maybe life-long, time (Romans 5:1-11).

The hope that “does not disappoint” has to encompass more than our present circumstances, although it does not belittle them. It begins with the reality that Humpty Dumpty is not the only one who fell and will fall off the wall, we will too. Real hope has to be able to conquer not just hardship and suffering but also death, it has to be anchored in more than a circumstance but in eternity. Real, eternal, hope is rooted in:

  • The reality of God and that he can be completely trusted. None who trust him will be disappointed (Psalm 22:4-5, Hebrews 11:6).
  • The life and work of Jesus Christ who conquered sin and death who alone can make promises beyond the grave (John 11:23-26).
  • The Spirit of God who indwells all who trust God and believe in Christ and who is both God’s eternal guarantee and our enabler (1:10-14).

It is a grievous character flaw for Christians not to be hopeful. It is a terrible sin to claim hope for our Humpty Dumpty and then dam it up to frolic in it ourselves, instead funneling it wherever hope is needed. One major measure of Christian maturity is how good we are at being hopeful, hope-rs. So how good are we at it? Are we getting better at? How are we responding to the darkness, the evil, the pain, and the hopelessness we see around us? To what extent is the hope poured out in hearts flowing out of us? And why would we want to just trickle it?

Hope alongside faith and love will endure eternally, heaven will be filled with them. But, we are to live them presently; they are needed now and for all time and eternity, even Humpty Dumpty knows that.

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

 

 

 

 

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