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Archive for November, 2017

I have double confession to make: 1. I am not good at giving gifts. I love to help, be generous, but gift-giving is not my spiritual gift. 2. I am not very good at receiving gifts either, a weakness for sure. I am way too German/Schwaebisch, which means I am terrible with “Kitsch,” useless, knick-knack, cheap stuff. When it comes to gifts the running joke and question in my family is whether I am going to take things back and exchange them. I am slowly improving, thanks to intensive tutoring by Susie (my wife, who is super good at the gift and receiving of gifts thing), but progress has been very slow.

Christmas is about giving and receiving, specifically God giving and us receiving. Above anything else, this Christmas would you think about, contemplate God giving us the ultimate gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) and your response to this gift of Jesus Christ.

However, before reflecting on God’s “indescribable gift,” Jesus Christ, think about everything else you have received from God. Let’s start from the very beginning. Your life, your first heartbeat, your first breath, all the way to this present moment is a gift from God. Your ability to laugh, cry, feel, do good, think, and chose, are all things God gave to you and me. The characteristics that make you you and me me, whether it is our tenacity, courage, boldness, tenderness, kindness, intelligence, handiness, …, are from God as well. The “lucky breaks,” the opportunities, the things you survived, can also be traced back to the giving heart of God. The fact is you and I have received from God all our lives, from the very beginning until now. It makes no difference whether you acknowledge this fact or sneer at it, it still stands as the truth; the only difference is that acknowledging it will make you grateful and not doing so will render you ungrateful, acknowledging it will cause you to have an increasing sense of responsibility towards God, disavowing it will cause you to be blind in your responsibility towards God. It is not a matter of whether you have received from God all your life but whether your life expresses your gratitude towards God.

Esau (Genesis 25-27, 25:34, 27:38) was born before his twin brother Jacob, which, in his ancient culture, meant he also got the significant firstborn rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately, he could have cared less about these gifts from God (admittedly, it is often hard to think of responsibilities as gifts), so in a careless moment he literally sold his birthright for a pot of stew, for mere pocket change. And he regretted it bitterly when it was too late. How grateful and careful are you for and with all God has given you up to this point in your life?

Esau is not in lonely company when it comes to being ungrateful for what God gave him, being careless with what God entrusted to him, shirking the responsibilities God handed to him. He is not the only sinner, the only one who has blown it, the only one who exchanged God’s gifts for something far less. No, you and are sitting right next to him in this historical boat (Romans 3:23). Which brings us back to Jesus, back to Christmas, back to God’s greatest gift, the gift that can save sinners, the gift that can help ungrateful screwups like you and me find forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. But like all gifts, it won’t benefit you unless you receive it, in this case him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son, the Savior of the world.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Go” John 1:12 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Let’s get ready for Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

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Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”                                                                                            Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:38-42 (ESV)

Have you ever given thanks to God for not answering your prayer, for ignoring your request, for making you wait?

Jesus didn’t come when they wanted him to, instead he waited, delayed. He ignored their implied request to heal Lazarus, one of his best friends, he let him suffer and die. Nor did Jesus book a redeye flight to be there as soon as possible for Lazarus’ distraught and grieving sisters. It took him four whole days to show up, which meant he missed even the funeral.

When Jesus finally got there Lazarus’ two sisters said aloud what everyone else thought, “If you would have been there our brother would not have died” Luke 1:22&32). Ouch, no gratitude here, only accusation, confusion, and silently screaming “Why?” The Son of God who could have intervened didn’t; the Omnipotent who can, didn’t; what he did for others he didn’t do for his friends. Why in the world would he refuse to do what was obviously needed, use his power to heal, and instead responded with inactivity that said, “No?”

“Open the tomb! You’ve got to be kidding! Martha is right, there will be a stench. In fact, this whole situation stinks. He could have and should have done something, but he didn’t. And now he stands there and is thanking God! – this guy is unbelievable.”

Out of all the times in life when we are told, “No,” being told, “No,” by God is the most confusing, especially when our requests feel legitimate,  unselfish,  about good outcomes, and are out of deep desperation. We expect God to at least care as much as we do.

What if Jesus would have acquiesced, had come in a hurry, had healed Lazarus, had kept him out of the grave, had said, “Yes,” to their requests and did things the way they had wanted him to. They would have known him less. They would have been condemned to a life of desperate calls for Jesus (God) to hurry, to fix, to bail out. They would have been stuck with an “Ambulance Jesus.” They would have continued in the same old fears. They would have been deprived of a glimpse of who he really is, “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26).

It is a great scene, isn’t it, when Jesus tells four-days-dead-and-decomposing Lazarus to “Come forth!” and then instructs them to take the burial clothes off him (John 11:44-45). Can you imagine the amazement, the joy, the awe? It would not have happened without Jesus waiving their initial request, without Jesus willing Lazarus to die, without Jesus waiting for days before showing up.

We think the best thing is when God answers our prayers the way we think is best, but it infinitely better when God responds to our petitions and requests, no matter how desperately we feel, the way he thinks is best, including him saying, “No, child.” How thankful I am that he not only knows what is best but also does what is best, undaunted by our expectations, frustration, desperation, pain, and confusion.

To God be all glory. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.” Psalm 103:19 (NLT)

How did we end up here, you and I, here in Don Pedro, La Grange, Coulterville, Greeley Hill, in California, in the United States? How did you get here wherever you read this? Born here, moved here, fled here, or immigrated? Had relatives living here, for work, for retirement, to raise a family away from city troubles, because the houses were affordable? Or maybe you are still wondering?

Regardless of the reasons, obviously we did end up here, in this place, this state, and this country. It might have been the result of our own choices or we might have had little or nothing to do with it, and still we are here together. We might not even like each other, although it would be much better if we did. We might have vastly different political views, values, interests, and beliefs, and nevertheless are globbed together here.

If we are not careful we can think that life is merely accidental, or that we are where we are and what we are solely because of our own choices. Thanksgiving is, among other things, a reminder that this not so. The Pilgrims along with many of the founding Fathers of our country believed, and rightly so, in providence, a word largely lost in our present culture, thinking, and discourse. Believing in providence acknowledges the reality of God, his existence, his guidance, his care, his power shaping and sustaining history, and that we play a part in both the receiving and the shaping ends of providence.

Divine providence is a great truth, it helps us to see life and each other differently, it pushes us towards humility, it forces us to live with greater responsibility, and causes us to be thankful and to give God praise. Remember the Thanksgiving story you learned in Kindergarten? It is a story of providence (and maybe explains why some want to purge it from being taught). A brutal, harsh winter, starvation, a kind Native American doing what is right, a bountiful harvest, a feast, and the giving of thanks to God.

Of course you and I can chose to go the opposite direction, to ignore both God and our neighbor, to laugh at the notion of providence, to shirk its responsibilities, to abhor the sacrifices it calls us to make, and instead live mostly for ourselves. It won’t make us better, but poorer. It won’t make us happier, but more cynical and afraid.

So, as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, look around at the people sitting at your table, next door neighbors, those living in your community, and the people near and far who for some reason have been placed in your life. They are the people God has put you with, they are your responsibility, you have the ability to do what is good and right for them and us together, you can help them, bless them, you can engage with them in such a way that their lives are better because of you, and you can be an instrument in the hands of God to such an extent that it will cause us to thank and praise God together.

Now that you have read this far would you please pause for a moment and either silently or out loud say a prayer thanking God for all the good, all of the blessings you have received and enjoyed this past year, and then ask God to use you for the good and benefit of the people among whom he has placed you, to be an instrument of his providence, to be someone for whom others are grateful and give thanks to God.

To God be all glory. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Pastor Hans

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On Monday I was driving past Merced Junior College on Yosemite Avenue. On the front lawn there was a display of rows and rows of American flags in preparation for Veterans Day. It caused me to slow down and remember how much I have benefited from the service of American soldiers. Before I was born, it was American servicemen and women who turned the tide against Hitler’s plans of evil and world tyranny; it was American soldiers who safeguarded a completely unarmed and vulnerable West Germany from the spread and domination of Soviet communism. It was American military might that was the deterrent throughout the Cold War and afforded me to grow up with all the liberties that Americans hold dear. All these many veterans have impacted my life; have afforded me choices I might not otherwise have had.

Driving by the Veterans Day flag memorial I also thought of the American Army Soldiers my Dad invited into our home to spend Christmas with us. It was a program sponsored by the nearby army base. My Dad always requested a black soldier because for one they were harder to place and because he wanted us grow up with less prejudice than he did. He wanted us to see beyond skin color, something that became important to him through his involvement with the YMCA in the early post WWII years. Remember there was still a draft in those years. Those young men might have served for all kinds of reasons, and certainly they little or nothing to do with the larger political machinations that impacted and determined their lives, but neither did I. What I do know is I have immeasurably benefited from their lives and service.

Now I am old enough to run into veterans whom I taught in school, coached in basketball or soccer, took to camps, and/or pastured as they grew up in Don Pedro. I have brother-in-laws who have retired from military service. I have talked with, counseled, and pray with Veterans with deep scars and burdens. I lead a little church and Sunday after Sunday there are Veterans who come to worship to pray, to learn to live like Jesus. I have a sense of indebtedness, of deep gratitude because of the impact they have had on my life, my family, my opportunities, and my safety.

It is easy to forget how deeply we are tied to history, to who and what came before us, to forget how intertwined our lives are with the lives of others right now; to forget that much of the good and best in our lives is connected to the service of others; to forget how much we benefit from battles others have fought; to forget God has assigned us all to be contributors to history and will hold us accountable as such; to forget to be grateful and contribute ourselves to a better world, to freedom, to safety, to justice, to civic courage, and to honor. So I give thanks to God for each Veteran who has and is contributing like that; may God bless you.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

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