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Archive for December, 2013

“Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives (souls). The teaching that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.Matthew 11:28-30 (NCV, parenthesis mine)

The heavier your load the more tired you will get the less far you will be able to carry it. At some point you will have to either set it down or it will injure you, crush you. Of course Jesus is not speaking of a literal heavy load, but of the things that weigh down our hearts, our minds, our souls.

“I’m not stressed!” my sister-in-law shouted on a crowded bus in response to being asked if she was stressed. I think she was stressed, what do you think?

“I’m not tired!” was the often heard angry reply when we told our kids that indeed they were tired and needed to go to bed.

“You need to slow down, you need to take a break,” Susie has reminded me more than once during our marriage, even when I didn’t see the need for either. Sometimes we don’t even realize how stressed, how tired, how overly busy we are. Sometimes we are the last ones to notice that we’re breaking down, that heavy load is taking its toll. We are prone to simply down more coffee and guzzle more energy drinks. We take pills to keep us going, help with our anxiety, and then help us sleep.

Of course this is nothing new, except that our culture has found a way to speed it all up, to even put vacations on the fast lane. 24/7 has become a term we are all familiar with. “Rest” on the other hand has become an almost unfamiliar term to us. “Rest for your souls,” what is that? But how we yearn for it.

God knows that we need rest, peace, help. Rest takes time, peace takes its time, helping gives time.

At 53 I wish I could preach and write on this subject from strength, but I can’t. I still run myself down, go, go, go till I almost drop, wait far too long to come to Jesus with my heavy load. I am still prone to overestimate my own strength and stamina to the point of not even knowing when I am tired, stressed, and worn.

Did you notice that there is an exchange of loads? My heavy load for Jesus’ light load. He doesn’t pile on top what is already too heavy for me. He doesn’t add to make me more tired and weary. Why am I so insistent about hanging on what is too heavy for me? Why do I have such a hard time letting Jesus help me? Is it pride? Is it dysfunction? Is it fear? Jesus has never let me down when I have come to him.

To God be all glory, love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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2013, A Reflection

In our memories many years fade into blur because they are marked by ordinariness, uneventfulness, a measure of tranquility, and an absence of evil and pain. There is blessedness in that kind of quietness, in life being good. 2013 has not been that kind of year for Susie and I. It has been a year of incredible highs, like the birth of little Shaheed Junior, ministry in Tanzania, a Frei brother reunion, a cancer-free medical report for Susie’s mom, visiting Betsie in Boston, Hansi and Amanda expecting their first child, Susie’s Mom Beverly being cancer free, our nephew Philip surviving being pinned under a tree with mere scratches, our daughter Andee living through an accident at her school, and my brother Michael making it through a major brain tumor surgery without the loss of any functions.

Of course both Andee’s accident, Phillips incident, and Michael’s operation were lowlights that turned into highlights because of their outcome. They could have been tragic.  They were panic moments that turned into praise and gladness. In those moments God held out his protective hand, and we are so grateful. Grateful God led Phillip out of the deep valley of depression. Grateful that Andee was not hurt any worse than an injured left hand and that her hand is healing. Grateful that Michael’s tumor was found and that his doctors are optimistic.

I wish that this were all, but this year God allowed deep darkness, crushing sorrow, and the inexplicable into our lives. Shaheed hurt his son, almost killed him, and permanently damaged him. Little Junior is now a beautiful little boy with a very damaged brain. Shaheed is in prison for many years and maybe the rest of his life. I do not have the words to convey the darkness and pain of all of this, it swept like a tsunami across our souls and hearts. All we could do was to cling to the lone tree standing in the torrent, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Susie and I have been praying for God to reveal more of himself to us. If God is truly infinite then there is infinitely more to discover. We have been praying for God to make us more like Christ. We have asked to be used by him in our family, our church, and our community. And in response God has given a year of extremes, of utmost heights and lowest lows, of being stretched beyond what we asked and imagined. Strangely enough in all of this we have not found less of God but more, we have not felt abandoned but kept, and even in our confusion our trust in God has grown, and we are able to say, “Amen,” to words the Apostle Paul penned long ago: It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken 2 Corinthians 4:6-9 (MSG).

So, Susie and I rejoice in the faithfulness and abiding presence of Christ throughout 2013 and are confident he will anchor us in 2014 as well.

We thank all of you who have prayed with and for us, have cared for us, and took the time to love on us and wish you a blessed New Year.

Hans and Susie

 

 

 

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“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:14 (NKJV)

Long before the first Goodwill Thrift store opened its doors God has been in the not for profit business of goodwill. Sometimes we forget just how vast the goodwill of God is. But when the voices of a multitude of angels shook the countryside they were proclaiming the ultimate expression of God’s goodwill towards all of mankind, Jesus Christ.

I learned something new (please hold your snide comments and show me some goodwill), in accounting goodwill is a business’s value beyond its tangible assets. That’s being worth more than you’re worth because someone assigns you that worth, and that is exactly what God has done to us in and through Christ. In fact our spiritual assets are not just zero but in the red. All of us, all of mankind, every last one is spiritually bankrupt, we are all sinners, we are creatures of not just goodwill but also of ill-will. God sent Christ not because our balance sheets neatly balanced out our good and bad, rather God in his love and goodwill through Christ assigned to as unfathomable and undeserved value. No wonder the angels started with, “Glory to God in the highest!”

It baffles me how often God gets a bad rap, is accused of ill-will. Why are we so prone to begin anywhere but ourselves? I don’t think I am exaggerating in assessing our collective human ill-will as staggering, and that without including the neglect of goodwill. “I am not as bad as ___________,” is a poor excuse for not being as good as I should be. And how often do we devalue others, are unwilling to account them some goodwill but rather insists on only seeing and talking about their lack of assets.

The lack of peace on earth illustrates this further. Why is there a lack of peace? Just this past week a Chinese and an American warships engaged in a game of chicken – why? You cannot ascribe the lack of peace on earth to any failure of God; he has given us a capacity for peace and peacemaking. It is us who chose otherwise. History is a long indictment when it comes to our lack of peace with each other and with God, it is a long record of both ill-will and a lack of goodwill.

I suppose if it were up to us we would have pulled the plug on the humanity a long time ago, at least we would have withdrawn our goodwill. This is how we operate if we cannot see some results to our goodwill, we move on. Fortunately you and I are not in charge. Fortunately God did the exact opposite, rather than withdrawing from our brokenness and abandoning us to our bankruptcy, he simply poured out more goodwill. Actually in Christ he opened the floodgates of goodwill, he flooded eternity with goodwill so eventually all ill-will will be drowned. No wonder the angels shouted over the fields, “Glory to God in the highest.”

It is because of the goodwill of God you and I received the gift of today. It is in the goodwill of God human worth and dignity are rooted. It is in the goodwill of God forgiveness and salvation has come to us through Christ. It is in the goodwill of God hope and mercy are offered to sinners whose balance sheets are wanting.

Intuitively the shepherds, who heard the angels’ praise, understood that this wasn’t about just hearing some words, but an invitation. An invitation to discover God, to find peace, to experience the goodwill of God – “Let’s go,” … “Let’s see,” was their Christmas response. What is yours?

Merry Christmas, to God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

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He (Jesus Christ) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:10-14 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

For Don Pedro and its Central California location it has been cold, all the way down to the low twenties (-4 to -6  Celsius). I know that for some of you who hail from colder climates that might be considered downright toasty, but for us it is cold. I remember working a shift in the freezer at Alta Dena Dairy, it was kept at – 40 (-40 Celsisus), needless to say I was happy to return to my regular job in the cooler. Then again all these freezing temperatures are downright warm compared to what was recently reported as the coldest recorded temperature on earth, a whooping -135.8 (-92.3 Celsius ). You have to breathe through a snorkel that warms the air or else you’ll freeze from the inside out. I wonder if you pour out a bucket of water in that kind of cold if it freezes before it hits the ground. I certainly would not want to get hit with a spit-wad?

Since cold, like all temperatures comes in varying degrees, we have different labels for it like chilly, frosty, bitter-cold, bone-chilling, or extreme cold. And generally we like to get out of the cold. Being left in the cold is not a good thing, neither is a cold-heart, or an icy cold stare, or being given a cold shoulder, or worst of all, encountering somebody cold-blooded.

Cold is what God encountered when he became incarnate (embodied) in Jesus Christ. Doubt, apathy, arrogance, and outright cold-bloodedness are what he encountered. But don’t just believe me, read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2  and check for yourself.

Why are doubts, apathy, arrogance, and outright vitriol such common reactions toward God and Jesus Christ? Why is it so difficult to warm up to the truth of one true and almighty Creator God who loves us and has revealed himself in and through Jesus Christ? Why do we rather shop than worship? Why are we more comfortable with “Holidays” than “Holy Days?”

What will your spiritual temperature of this Christmas be? Will the chill of doubt, apathy, arrogance, even cold-bloodedness toward Jesus Christ be felt? Will Christmas be about anything except God, his Son, and his love? Or will God and Christ find in you warmth, welcome, and worship?

To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

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Imagine yourself stranded in the desert. You have used all the tricks you learned from watching various survival shows, but this point you are so parched all you can think of is a sip of water and that someone will find you. Just then you hear your smart phone ringing. You think your mind is playing tricks on you and but reach in your pocket for the phone anyway. By the time you get it out it has stopped ringing. You check your phone for if it has reception – not a single bar. But there is a missed call and you don’t recognize the number. For some reason you try connecting to the number, but nothing. Unbelievably, right when you wearily put your phone back into your pocket it rings again. Quickly you yank it to your ear, push the right button, and squeak out a weak, “Hello.”

“Congratulations!” proclaims the happy voice on the other end, “You have won ten million dollars and an all-inclusive vacation to the Bahamas.”

“Help me, I need help,” you try to interrupt.

“We have had a difficult time locating you, but thanks to your phone and GPS we now know exactly where you are and will deliver your prizes to you very shortly,” the still very happy voice continues.

“You know where I am! You know how to get to me?” you scream out shaking and filled with hope.

“Yes, we know exactly where you are and are so happy for you. You will be able to enjoy your prizes before you know it.” The voice still bubbles.

“I need water!” you scream, “I need you to come and get me, please!”

“Water will be last thing you’ll worry about when you relax at the beach in the Bahamas, and I am happy to hear you being so excited. That’s the most satisfying thing about this job, blowing the minds of lucky winners like you. Oh, I see they’re almost there.”

“What! Where! Wait, you don’t understand! Please …” is all you get out because you hear a plane overhead.

“Good, I can hear that they’re there. Have a wonderful day, or life. Great talking with you, enjoy.”

“No! No! Wait, don’t hang up! Please listen to me, I am lost in …” you get out before a suitcase lands in front of you. “Are you still there!” you yell as you return your attention to your phone, but all you hear is silence.

Dejected you open the suitcase. It contains ten million dollars. On top of the money is a travel brochure to your trip to the Bahamas. You begin to cry.

What is more important than responding to someone’s needs? Christmas is about God responding to the most essential need of all of humanity and each one of us individually, namely spiritual redemption and salvation. In Jesus Christ… the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” Titus 2:11 (NIV). We might never have to be rescued from dying of dehydration in the desert, but we do have to be rescued from death and the judgment of our sin. So this Christmas above all remember that through Jesus Christ God has responded to what you and I need the most. Maybe you are convinced that you do not really need Christ. Obviously God did not think so and that line of reasoning is the very deception, the very delirium of the desert of our sinfulness. In bringing us to another Christmas God is again trying to rescue, save you.

One more thought, how about putting the emphasis of our Christmas giving on meeting real needs. Instead of raining down more toys and trinkets than anyone needs, how about meeting the real needs of people around us, or people far away, the needs of the poor, the hungry, the hurting, the oppressed, the sick, the widows, the fatherless. How about copying God’s giving at Christmas time.

To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

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