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Archive for December, 2016

Hope

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)

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3:21-25 (ESV)

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

Am I, are you overflowing with hope? Is hope stirring and rising within us like popcorn filling a pan, lifting the lid, and spilling over? Do innocent bystanders get soaked with hope simply because they are standing too close to us? And not just any kind of hope, or some cheap kind of hope, but eternal hope.

The Corinthian Christians, like us, chased after all kinds of things that made them feel spiritual, superior even. They settled in on the spectacular like miraculous healing, special revelations and intellectual insights, and especially speaking in tongues. Whoever didn’t evidence some special spiritual endowment (gift) like that just wasn’t with it, was lacking, second rate, spiritually immature, and not all that important in the big picture of God’s work. The Apostle Paul reminded them that as crucial as the gifts of the Holy Spirit are, they are neither the measuring stick of spiritual maturity nor of spiritual excellence. They serve a temporary purpose but what lasts for eternity are FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE.

Susie and I just got back from spending a few days playing in the snow with a couple of our children and our one and two year old grandsons. What do I hope for them? What do I pray for them? What do I want to spill from my life into theirs? What do I want them drip all the way home and the rest of their lives? Without question among these is “hope.”

Jeremiah prophesied and wrote in terrible times. His nation, ancient Judah (Israel) was disintegrating politically, economically, morally, and above all spiritually. They were in collective denial, misplaced their hope, and settled for wishful but fatal thinking. And the disaster came. It is in the midst of humiliating defeat, ruined infrastructure, unimaginable bloodshed and atrocities, and life at the end as they knew it, that Jeremiah while writing a lament pens the words, “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope,” and then reminds himself and us that real, lasting hope always begins with and is anchored in God, the “God of hope;” who loves to fill us with his peace and joy, and evermore so when we dare to trust him. The result is “overflowing hope,” not based on our limited strength but on the power of the very Spirit of God.

Let me return you one more time to the prophet Jeremiah, who on the heels of pronouncing a seventy year disaster, delivered God’s words and promises of hope to the ancient Israelites, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV).

So this year, 2017, we the Lake Don Pedro Baptist Church Family will concentrate on HOPE. We are going to search the scriptures, asking God to teach us about HOPE. We are going to ask God to show us what stands in the way of us overflowing with HOPE, to fill us with HOPE and HOPEFULNESS like never before, and we are going to ask God to put us into situations where we hope is needed, where hopers are needed, where Holy Spirit empowered overflowing hope is needed.

To God be all glory. Happy New Year, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Now the birth …. Matthew 1:18 (NASB)

 Before you can have a birth, you need conception and nine months’ worth of amazing development from a single cell to billions of cells organized in mindboggling complexity and endowed with a soul. All of it designed and overseen by God himself, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well” Psalm 139:13-14 (NASB).

Despite having watched videos of births in Lamaze class and on PBS, I was still unprepared for the birth of our first child. As they pulled him out I heard him take his first breath, make his first sound, and watched him turn from blue to pink. When they put him in my arms I couldn’t help but feel I was holding a little miracle in my hands. The second, third, and fourth time I was more prepared, but that feeling of holding a little miracle only grew stronger. However, the birth of Jesus Christ was a miracle of entirely different dimensions.

Back up nine months from “the birth,” zoom in on an obscure village called Nazareth in ancient Galilee, look for the carpenter shop, and there you find a happily engaged young man named Joseph, counting the days to his wedding. If you want to know where his fiancée (his “betrothed”) lives with her family you need to ask him for directions.

Fast forward a few weeks and go find Joseph again in his carpenter’s shop. He is clearly preoccupied, something is weighing on his mind, and it is not what he learned in Lamaze class or on PBS. If you could read his mind you would know that he is trying to break the engagement to Mary with as little fuss as possible. She told him that she is pregnant and he knows he is not the father. Her explanation that things are not what they seem and that she’s pregnant with a child conceived by the Holy Spirit makes no sense.

Since by now you know your way around Nazareth go back again a few months later and order some breakfast at Malachi’s Dinner and Bagel shop. Ask the waitress, Abigail, also known as “The Nazareth Daily News,” if she knows Joseph and Mary’s wedding date. Watch her scoot into your booth with her coffee pot in hand and listen to her tell you in a whisper that it turns out that little good girl Mary turned up pregnant and rumor has it Joseph isn’t the real father. “Can you believe that young fool is still willing to marry her when he could have almost any girl in town,” she says wagging her head. “Supposedly, he claims, God told him to her marry her anyway. And, sad to say, it sounds just like him. But if you ask me, that’s taking the whole God-fearing thing a bit too far,” she says while sliding out of your booth.

“So you liked Nazareth so much you had to come back eight months later, eeh?” You went by the carpenter shop but it had a “For Sale” sign in the window. So back to Abigail it is. “They went down South, Bethlehem I think, with her eight months pregnant, can you believe that. Fools I say! They don’t know a single soul down there. I tell you she is going to have that child down there, and then what?” she says shaking her head, “For the life of me I can’t figure out why either of their folks would let them,” and off she goes coffee pot in hand.

“I knew it; you’re already googling Bethlehem, aren’t you?” Abigail was right, by the time you get there Mary had that baby, in the middle of the night, in a strange little town, and in a barn no less. When you get to the barn you’re surprised to see that Joseph and Mary already have a bunch of visitors. Maybe Abigail wasn’t as right on as she thought she was. It’s a bunch of shepherds with a strange story of seeing the glory of God in the middle of the night and an angel telling them about this baby being born, and more importantly him being the Savior, the Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:8-20). You know what Abigail would say, “Don’t you know the only guys that drink more than fishermen are shepherds.” But these guys are sober, no doubt about it. They didn’t just witness a birth, but the birth, the miracle of the incarnation of God. They got to see more than the face of brand new baby, they got a glimpse of God.

How many babies were born the past week? Who knows? Each one is a precious life made in the image of God. Each one should be important and feel like a miracle to his or her parents, but it is not important for everyone to know about their birth or know their name. What is important is that you and I know about THE BIRTH, the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, whose name is Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas. 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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“They Presented Gifts” (Matthew2:11)

There are all kinds of gifts, like:

  • The “just because I can” gift.
  • The surprise gift.
  • The “You are worth it!” gift.
  • The “I want to spoil you” gift.
  • The “I want to honor you” gift.
  • The reciprocal gift.
  • The obligatory, “can’t leave him/her out” gift.
  • The gift for the occasion, like birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc.
  • The gift that totally helps.
  • The gift at the perfect time.
  • The “stupid” gift that makes you laugh.
  • The creative gift.
  • The “love you” gift.
  • The monetary gift.
  • The thoughtful gift.
  • The gift given at the perfect time.
  • The sacrificial gift.
  • The practical gift.
  • The re-gifted gift.
  • The inspiring gift.
  • The gift of time, skills, help – of self.
  • The gift of listening, caring.
  • The “WOW!” gift.
  • The “No Way! You’ve got to be kidding” gift.
  • The perfect gift.

Christmas, the celebration of God giving himself through the incarnation of his Son, Jesus Christ, is the “indescribable gift” (2 Cor 9:15). Then of course there is young Mary giving her entire life to God to use it as He sees fit (Luke 1:38). The Motel manager usually gets a bad rap, but somehow he just didn’t have the heart to turn away a highly pregnant woman, even though he had zero vacancies, and quickly made a spot in the storage shed out back so they would have at least a dry roof over their heads (Luke 2:7, a very liberal paraphrase). We certainly know about the wise men’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were extravagant gifts for a carpenter’s family, but then they were gifts meant to honor a king. No, these wise men did not go cheap, but maybe they should have listened to their wives on the practicality. Gold is okay, because it is like cash, and cash can be very practical. But myrrh for a baby king? That wise fellow should have listened to his wife and bought that two-year supply of diapers along with a weekly massage for the mom. Frankincense certainly hit the nail on the head in terms of Jesus being God and worthy of worship, but maybe he too should have gotten some baby king gift ideas, like maybe gold plated Tonka trucks. Finally, those shepherds (Luke 2:1-17) who came to the storage shed behind the motel. As far as we know no gifts were exchanged, except that they showed up in the middle of the night to rejoice with a lonely, worried, and exhausted young couple who just had their first child.

We are capable of giving terrific, extraordinary, and even extravagant gifts that have an impact and make a difference. Especially when we engage our minds, our hearts, and strive to emulate the greatest giver of all, God, who in Christ wrapped up the most perfect, most holy, most loving, and most needed gift and gave him to us for a Savior.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NASB)

Let me list some qualities and you put a name in the blank space following it: Generosity ________, Kindness _________, Genius _________, Mean _______, Love _______, Evil ________, Selfless ________, Bitter _______, Laughter _______, Sacrifice ________.

Let’s do the reverse, I throw out a name and you attach the quality that first comes to your mind as you read each one: Mom ________, Dad ________, Fidel Castro ________, George Washington ________, Mother Theresa ________, Dog the Bounty Hunter ________, Miley Cyrus ________, Adlof Hitler _________, Rosa Parks _______, Jesus Christ ________.

The point of this little exercise is that qualities can and are embodied by people and people embody qualities, although we might not necessarily agree with each other’s assessments and sentiments.

John the Apostle, who knew Jesus Christ personally, when writing his Gospel made sure that anyone who would ever read his Gospel would be absolutely clear about who Jesus Christ is: The very embodiment of God himself, the Incarnation of God, the very essence of self-existing life becoming flesh and dwelling among us. This is the reality of Christmas, the inexplicable humility and compassion of God, the Son of God stepping into space and time, which he created, in order to save sinful humanity, sinners like you and I.

John was keenly aware that the very people Jesus came to save would in their sinfulness declare Jesus merely one among many admirable people who embodied goodness of some kind at an extraordinary high level. He was aware that the opinions and valuations regarding Jesus Christ would be deeply divided. Thus he penned his Gospel so that when we read it we would be left with only one conclusion: The unmuddled and unassailable truth is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God incarnate.

This is incredible good news for sinners like you and me who are both in bondage to sin, continually perpetuate sin, who cannot escape the consequences of their sin, and who have no hope of surviving God’s judgment of their sin. It is great news because it is God showing up at the front door of your and my life in order to save us from and out of that which you will never be able to extricate and save ourselves from. “Behold, I (Jesus Christ) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” Revelation 3:20 (ESV).

Run to open your door to Jesus Christ.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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