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Archive for November, 2014

How Thanksgiving Describes Us

Jesus, in a parable, tells of two men who went to the temple to pray. God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12 NIV), was the prayer of one of them, a Pharisee. Now in my book, and in God’s book, not being a robber, evildoer, or an adulterer is a good thing, and having some spiritual habits like fasting and giving 10% of your income is nothing to sneeze at either. But he clearly didn’t like tax collectors who in Jesus’ day were considered as having no spiritual, moral, or political fiber. He thought the wrong he didn’t do and the good he did was what described him, but it was his comparison to the tax collector praying next to him that revealed the truth about him. That was no real giving of thanks, that was claiming righteousness by comparing himself to someone else. That was a self-declaration of being good at the cost of declaring someone bad. That was a prayer that fell flat, regardless of having prayed in the Temple (church). It didn’t lift off the ground anymore than the smoke of Cain’s sacrifice. He should have stopped while he was ahead, but didn’t just like we usually don’t, and even if he had guarded his mouth he still would have thunk it in his heart, “Thank you God I am not like those weirdoes, these whackos, that Muslim, them homosexuals, this gangbanger, or …”

For ten very sick men this was a great day. They had asked Jesus to heal them of their leprosy (think crippling, infectious decease that slowly kills you while rendering you a social outcast). Christ heard their cries for mercy and told them to go to show themselves to the priests (think local health officials). While they were on their way the leprosy vanished from their bodies, they were healed, but One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15-16 NIV). The other nine never looked back. However, all ten of them were described by their thankfulness to God or lack thereof. I imagine all ten were crazy glad, all ten happy out of their minds, all ten could not wipe the smiles of their faces, but only one returned to give honor, to shout praise, and offer thanks to whom it was due, to God, to Christ.

How much in our lives is due to no merit or effort of our own? How much good has happened to us solely because of the mercy and grace of God? Did that Pharisee have anything to with the fact that he was born into a God-fearing family? Did he learn that fasting and tithing habit on his own or did someone teach him? Were all the “lucky” breaks in his life just random coincidences? How did those nine lepers, who should have known better, completely forget to give thanks to God on the greatest day of their lives? How did God, in the midst of undeserved and incredible blessing, become an afterthought or a no-thought, when he should have been the main thought?

That sinful, humble tax-gatherer so disliked by the Pharisee had his prayer answered, he went away “justified,” forgiven Luke 18:13-14). That Samaritan who turned back to praise and thank God was told he was “well,” based on his thanksgiving to and worship of God/Christ. What does your thanksgiving say about you?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD… — To give thanks to the name of the LORD. Psalm 122:1, 4b (NASB)

Have you ever been a rut and didn’t know it? Maybe you were working, working, working and someone had to come along and tell you, “You need to slow down; you need to take a break”. Or maybe when you were so busy you forgot to eat and someone had to remind you. It is amazing how many ruts there are and how when you are in one you often don’t even know it until someone comes along and hollers at you down in your rut.

Maybe we should all get together and play, “Name that Rut.” I have been in both of the ones mentioned above, as well as in the rut of self-pity, greed , negativity, business (wait I am still in that one), over-commitment, being out of shape, joylessness, stubbornness, overestimating my importance, procrastination, …. Feel free to kick in and participate anytime with some of your own __________________________________________________ .

Ruts trap us, they lock in our wheels, and they paralyze our minds to the point of unawareness. It is really easy to get into a rut but it is difficult to get out of one, especially when you have been in one for a while. It is possible to get in such a deep rut that that we can’t see anything else, we think it’s normal when it is not. If we let it, a rut will keep us until the day we die, it will have us circling, and circling, and circling, only a little deeper each time around. That’s why sometimes the only way out of a rut is if someone cares enough to shout down into it, cause to us stop, and give us a hand to pull us out – “I was glad when they said to me, …”

Why had that person stopped going up to God’s house – stopped coming into God’s presence, stopped worshipping God? How did s/he get into a rut where thanking God was no longer important, much less something primary? Maybe “praying for the peace of Jerusalem” seemed like a joke, much like praying for peace and politics can seem like a joke today? Maybe s/he had decided that there were already too many hypocrites going to God’s house? Maybe s/he wasn’t all that convinced anymore that there even is a God? Maybe s/he was simply stuck in some other rut where there was no time, energy, or sense of importance for spiritual things? We don’t know. But we do know that whatever the rut was that person was glad that someone cared enough to both holler and reach down into that rut. “Stop and come with us, to worship, to pray, to give thanks,” was the invitation.

This Thanksgiving be the one who invites all the others who have gathered to go before God to acknowledge him, to praise him, and to give him thanks. Be the one who won’t let it be just an ordinary holiday circling in a godless rut of family, friends, food, fun, and football. “Let us go to the house of the LORD. … — To give thanks to the name of the LORD,” because this is where all giving of thanks should begin.

This Thanksgiving lets bow before God who in is love, mercy, and grace hollered and reached down into the inescapable rut of our sinfulness, confirmed by human history, and has invited us through his Son Jesus Christ, to come into his house, and to give thanks.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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I believe Nutella®, the famous hazelnut/chocolate spread, is one of the great culinary inventions of our time. It transforms ordinary toast into a fabulous dessert, it is the queen of frosting, it turns most things sweet into a delight, and it is absolutely delectable all by itself.

Long before Nutella® there was whipped cream. Pretty much whatever I told you about Nutella® is also true about whipped cream. You can’t count all of the sublime uses of whipped cream. And if you want to go for the coup de grace use them both at the same time, Nutella® and whipped cream – unbelievable, out of this world.

I admit, both Nutella® and whipped cream have their limits. I would not put either on a bratwurst, nor would I add them to a tomato basil salad. I would not dip a pickle in them or barbeque with them.

Maybe Nutella® and whipped cream leave you cold. Maybe for you it is TABASCO® Sauce, or salsa, or ketchup, or garlic, or …? (Feel free to email me your “makes most everything taste better” – dergermanshepherd@gmail.com).

Let me advocate for something even better than Nutella® or whipped cream, something that truly has universal application: Gratefulness, Thankfulness. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1Thess 5:18 (HCSB).

Actually Thankfulness, the giving of thanks, the expression of gratefulness is just one of several things on a list of things God encourages us to continually practice, to put on everything. “See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t stifle the Spirit (what God wants to do). Don’t despise prophecies (what God says), but test all things. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil” 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22 (HCSB, parentheses mine).

Can you imagine a world, a nation, a community, a neighborhood, a work place, a school, a church, a family where everyone is committed to what is good for one another and for all, where everyone avoids evil but hangs on to what is good, a world full of rejoicing, continual prayer, and thanksgiving, a world that listens to God and does his will? If we were to put that on everything, how sweet would that be?

Now contrast that to the following, “But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!” 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (HCSB). I don’t want to be a person of whom God says, “to be avoided.” I want to be part of list A, part of the group of people who keep putting on the stuff God endorses, the stuff that makes life more delectable for everybody else.

I am grateful for the life God invites you and me to, the life that is made possible through his Son Jesus Christ, the life the Holy Spirit encourages us to and empowers us to live. Let’s stock our cupboards with it. Let’s have others taste it. Let’s get ready for Thanksgiving, a life of thanksgiving.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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Your Vote Counts

State wide only 29.7 of all eligible California voters cast a ballot, about 50% of Tuolumne and Mariposa County registered voters voted, and a mere 28.7 % of Stanislaus county did so (according to http://vote.sos.ca.gov/returns/status/). This means 70% of those who were eligible and registered chose to disenfranchise themselves for this election. They exercised their right not to vote, but they also neglected their democratic responsibility.

Of course all of them voted, albeit unofficially. They voted to do something else instead of voting. They voted that nothing on the ballot was important. They gave their proxy to a few. I wonder how many of those who didn’t vote would say that living in a democratic society is important to them. After all the USA is the land of the free, the champion of democracy, and still the envy of millions around the world.

Voting is about making choices, including choices we might not like or want to make. Voting is about the privilege of having choices to make. Voting, being involved in decision making is a reality of life. Most of our voting, our decision making is of the unofficial kind, which does not make it any less important. There is not a week that goes by where we are not called upon to vote for or against integrity, honesty, transparency, compassion. Married people vote do not just cast a vote for fidelity at the altar but throughout their married lives. Parents continually face choice and decisions regarding family. Every temptation is a commercial vying for your vote. And all of these choices matter a great deal. Think what happens when enough people vote against integrity, or if 70% decide integrity is no longer important enough to go and vote for it? What happens to a family when one or both parents no longer vote for it? I reminded of what God told Cain, “… sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” Genesis 4:7 (NASB). “Cain, you have to vote, you have to decide,’ is what God was essentially telling him. Why? Because how we vote, for what we vote makes a difference.

One vote that more and more think is entirely optional is the God vote, whether or not to believe in, trust, and follow God by doing his will. Some do not like the choices; there is only one true, eternal, Almighty God, who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, on the ballot. And yes, you have the choice not to vote for him. And yes, making no decision is still making a decision. And yes, this is in the big scheme of things, in the long haul the most important vote anyone of us will ever cast. Joshua was keenly aware of this reality when laid out the God vote in front of his family and countrymen, “If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” Joshua 24:15 (NIV).

We have to live with the consequences of our voting. Every single one of our votes, official and unofficial, has consequences, some of them lifelong, some of them for generations to come, and some of them eternally. We ought to weigh that before we cast our God vote or decide not to choose at all.

To God be all glory, especially in our voting. Pastor Hans

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