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Archive for June, 2017

God Bless America

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
Psalm 67:1-7 (ESV)

It is a good thing to seek God’s blessing. We are much better off when God’s “good hand” is on us individually and collectively, and conversely, we are never in greater trouble than when God stretches out his hand against us. Which means God’s blessing is not automatic and he gets to decide the whom, what, when, and how of his blessings.

There is no problem with God’s blessing; the problems are in how we handle God’s blessings. We are not superior to the ancient Israelites who excelled at squandering God’s blessings, who didn’t use their liberty to liberate others, who didn’t use their prosperity to bless others, who when they received justice were not compelled to seek justice for others. God’s blessing did not inspire them to be more generous, more compassionate, more selfless, more forward looking, and more devoted to each other and to God. God’s blessing did not compel them to check their greed, their pride, their lusts, and their bend towards idolatry. In the end they fooled themselves into thinking that God was going to bless them because they were more special, “chosen,” “children of Abraham,” or in our case citizens of “the land of the free and the brave.”

Have you ever thought about how much more blessed we could be if we would only orient ourselves more on God, who as you read above, “judges the peoples with equity.” How much blessing have we squandered because we have not paid attention to just this one characteristic of God? There was no blessing in the treatment and genocide of Native Americans, prosperity, yes, but blessing no (remember the wicked do know how to prosper, Psalm 73:3, Job 21:7). Slavery held no blessing, but much profit. Segregation was not a snapshot of heaven. The wholesale legalization of abortion was not a victory but devalued and an entire segment of humanity among us and stripped it them of the most basic right, the right to life. There is no blessing in our staggering accumulation of debt, but it does expose our corruption, our greed, our inability to live within our means, and trusting our own wisdom more than God’s.  The need for affordable health care is not a problem for the rich, but it is for the poor, working families, and millions elderly, there is no blessing in not fixing this inequity. We squander blessing for both ourselves and the generations that follow us when we do not act towards the orphan, the widow, the poor, the alien (the foreigners among us), the weak, the oppressed, and the mistreated the way God does. We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and not desire that blessing for our “neighbor” (Luke 10:25-36).  We cannot with sincerity ask for God’s blessing and exclude him from public life, mock him in our culture, and reduce him to one among many gods. We are not immune to both burning through the inheritance left to us and adding to the list of things that are devoid of God’s blessing.

We should seek God’s blessing, it is unequivocally the right thing to do for us, for others, for the future, and before God. You and I should with all of hearts seek God’s blessing for America, so we will bless him, so He will receive the praise and honor he deserves, so we will “leave an inheritance” of blessing to our children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), an inheritance that is about more than prosperity, more than self, but instead perpetuates, “equal,” “the pursuit of happiness,” and “liberty and justice for all” (all truly meaning all, including all people and peoples).” Only then can we legitimately be called good and godly, only then can we sing, “God bless America,” and it be more than a patriotic sentiment but a sincere request of Almighty God. O that “all the ends of the earth would fear him,” know him, praise him, and worship him.

May God bless the United States of America. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT).

When I turned off the engine in the parking lot of Mission San Miguel Arcangel, off Highway 101, the thermometer in my truck read 109 degrees (42.8 Celsius). The heat sucked out the air-conditioned coolness of the cab as soon as we opened the doors. It was only a few steps to the entrance of the mission but the sun still managed to give us a good hard slap before we made it into the shade of the long covered porch. Inside we were greeted not only by very nice lady but by an incredible coolness. 200 years ago, long before the power grid and air-conditioning, or triple pane gas-filled windows they obviously know something about how to build dwellings that stayed cool in the heat.

Even for a construction layman like me a few things were obvious: The several feet thick walls keep cool in and heat out. The porches surrounding the outside and the inside courtyard prevent the sun from directly hitting the walls. The windows are small and few. (I wonder how many people got yelled at for leaving a door open). And of course you can’t build something like that overnight, this is more costly and labor and time intensive than nailing a few sticks of lumber together and covering them with siding and sheetrock.

We also wondered about the criteria for picking the spots of these Missions. One of them was distance between one Mission and the next, but the most crucial criteria was a source of water that could sustain people, livestock, and crops, even scorching and prolonged heat.

Living in Central California we know that the heat will come, the rainfalls will cease for months, rivers will shrivel into trickles or dry out all together, North-winds will blow and bring unbearable heat waves. Life is like that, filled with dry-spells, the unbearable, and that for which we must prepare (if we are wise). God continually tries to direct and equip us so we can not only survive, but thrive, prosper, and stay cool in the heat of life. Central California is an illustration of that too. What looks so dry, scorched, and barren is also home to one of the greatest agricultural marvels when you combine it water, foresight, knowledge, work, and the discipline good farming requires.

In a very real sense every believer in Jesus is called to be a Mission, an outpost, an oasis, but we do not become one unless:

  • We draw a clear line between the godly and the wicked (Psalm 1:1, Jeremiah 17:5-6).
  • Trust and hope in God completely and exclusively (Jeremiah 17:7)
  • Love, know, and implement the word of God (the Bible), the wisdom of God, and the ways and principles of God (Psalm 1:2).
  • Acquire the skills, habits, and strength required to build what lasts and bears fruit (2 Peter 1:1-8)

One last Mission observation, they were large complexes, built for more than just one person but for entire community. They provided shelter, cool, and life for more than “me.”

Stay cool. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Go ahead, click on the picture icon on your built in computer, called your mind. Then click on the folder “Favorite People.” I am willing to bet that the faces in this file bring a smile to your face, that they cause your heart to feel good, that you are grateful these people are part of life, are stuck in your memory.

You probably have different reasons for filing these people in this file. Maybe you put them there because they made you laugh a lot, or maybe because they helped you, or because they influenced you in a positive way. Maybe they stuck with you when you were struggling, messed up, or were an outright jerk. Maybe it was their generosity, their kindness, or their goodness. Maybe it was their quirkiness, their spunk, their imagination, their courage, or their humility that made you decide to stick them in your “Favorite People” folder. Maybe you didn’t even make a conscious choice to stick them there and they just somehow invaded, somehow just showed up in this most precious file. But no matter how or why they got there you are grateful that they are there.

Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers,” is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (1:2 MSG). That lets you know where Paul filed these folks in his heart and mind, doesn’t it, because there are two groups of people we think about and pray about more than anyone else: 1. Those dearest to us, and 2. Those we dread and struggle with the most. Clearly the Apostle counted the Thessalonians in the first group and lucky for us he tells us how they ended up in his “Favorite” folder. He highlighted:

  • Their “work of faith” (1:3), their faith in action, that they didn’t just sit around talking spiritual but acted like Jesus would act. People like that are real.
  • Their “labor of love” (1:3), which implies both the right actions and the right motivation. People like that are like a breath of fresh air.
  • Their “endurance inspired by hope” (1:3 NIV), which lets us know that they weren’t quitters, they knew how to grind it out and stay positive and hopeful at the same time. People like that are inspiring.
  • Their willingness to change and grow (1:6 & 9), they didn’t adapt God to their wants, customs, values, and comfort level but let God shape them through the Holy Spirit, the message of God’s word, and the example of Paul. People like that are rare.
  • Their willingness to take on responsibility to be both godly/Christlike examples and to be messengers of the Gospel of Christ (1:7-8). They laid things on the line in word and deed. People like that are encouraging.

It’s no wonder why they ended up being among Paul’s “Favorites.”

What remains for you and me is to figure out why the Holy Spirit/God had Paul record this, why this was preserved for us to read? May you and I become “Favorites,” reasons for joyful remembrance, the content of thankful prayers, and inspirations to follow Jesus for all the right reasons.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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The superintendent informed the gathering of parents, family, and friends that Don Pedro high School’s graduating class of 2017, all nine of them, had satisfied all the requirements and could move their tassels from the right to the left, signifying that they were now graduated. They won’t have to do High School ever again. Let the celebration begin.

A proud Dad sitting in front of remarked, “Nineteen years ago he was just a tiny little bundle I held in my arms.” He doesn’t fit into those arms anymore. It would be comical to see that graduate hop into his Dad’s arms. It would be tragic if had not grown out of his diapers, or never learned to walk, talk, laugh and cry, and … – if he had not grown up. Of course, at 17, 18, 19 there is still a lot of growing that lies ahead. Just because a person is as tall as they are ever going to get does not mean their heart, their mind, their character, their courage, their stamina, and … are fully developed. You haven’t learned it all by the end of High School, or college, or grad school, or at 50, 60, 70, 80, although our pride may tell us so. I pray that both the graduates and all of us in attendance will remember the principal’s encouragement to be lifelong learners, question-askers, wonderers.

Some people love school, some hate it, many could care less about graduations, but we are all headed for the ultimate graduation. The requirements for High School graduation are not sufficient for it, none of us has completed the coursework, we still have a lot of growing and learning ahead of us. In light the ultimate examination, the return of Christ, the judgment of God, and the one graduation ceremony no one can escape the Apostle encourages each one of us, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” 2 Peter 3:18 (ESV).

Last night’s graduates did not get to decide on the content of the curricula, they were the students, not the teachers. Regarding the curricula of eternal life, concerning what is required for the ultimate graduation God is the one who is the teacher and we are the learners. There are lot of assignments that make us groan, that have as wondering as to the usefulness of having to learn this, but one thing God never does is give unnecessary assignments, mere busywork, fluff. All he assigns to us, challenges us to learn, confounds us with, is designed to grow us in grace, in the knowledge of Christ, to make us better, wiser, stronger, and softer.

So, what is God assigning you right now? What is he trying to grow and develop in you through that assignment? What is he wanting to accomplish through you? Are you bringing all that he has taught up to this point to bear in handling the current assignment? Do you seek God for office hours and help when you are stumped? Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it” James 1:2-5 (MSG).

Before any High school graduation there are parents who are worried that that their son’s or daughter’s attitude, laziness, outlook, and procrastination will keep him or her from graduating. Likewise, the Apostle Paul was concerned that anyone would “receive the grace of God in vain” 2 Corinthians 6:1 (NASB), and the writer of Hebrews (12:15) warned not to “come up short of the grace of God.” The only way to do neither is to be committed to God teaching us throughout life and be relentless when it comes to “growing in grace and the knowledge of Christ.”

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27 (NLT)

They were blocking the road, five tom turkeys strutting their stuff with all their might, oblivious to the world around them. My very noisy Dodge diesel pickup had absolutely no effect on them. They were dragging their wings, spreading their tail feathers, inflating their necks, and executed fancy dance patterns. I looked around to see what all the fuss was about, and there in the dry weeds on the side of the road was the scraggliest turkey hen I had ever seen. Obviously those five males were bunch of frustrated jakes (young males) who had lost out on the whole spring mating thing but had spotted themselves a lonely jenny, which compelled them to pull out all of the stops.

I don’t know if any of them inspired the homely hen enough to win the prize because after about five minutes they decided to move off the road and danced their way into the bushes. However, it seems to me those five boys were clearly worried that they were going to be this year’s mating season losers. And since gobblers are not native to Palestine Jesus must not have been talking about turkeys.

Jesus, however, did specifically talk about ravens and sparrows (Matthew 10:29). We only have the occasional raven around our place, but we do have a resident pack of their cousins, crows. They really are gang, they love to harass other birds, fly around with their souped-up sound systems cranked up, doing all kinds of aerial acrobatics, looking for mischief, and when they have found it they fly off laughing away. They, unlike those strutting jakes, have carefreeness stamped all over them. “Turning to his disciples, Jesus said, ‘That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?’ … ‘Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need’” Luke 12:22-26, 31 (NLT).

Freedom from worry, freedom from fear are some of the great benefits that come with trusting God, walking with Jesus, concerning ourselves with the kingdom of God – the eternally valuable and important instead of mere survival. So, how are you doing with fear and worry? Are you more likely to resemble a desperate tom turkey afraid of losing out on life, franticly strutting your stuff, oblivious to the world around you, unaware of the goodness of God, the power of God, and the calling of God to higher things?

Those carefree crows look rather plain; they can’t compete with the dazzling plumage of a dressed up tom turkey. But watch them fly, hear them laugh, see the sparkle in their eyes. The more we are about stuff and strutting the less carefree we will be, the more we will be tied to the fleeting, the less we live by faith, and we will we spend more time on the ground worrying than in the air worshipping.

Consider the birds.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. If you have children, go to our church’s website and sign them up for VBS (Vacation Bible School) and/or camp.

 

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