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For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 (NIV)

If you are reading this pastor’s note it is safe to assume you awoke this morning. You also learned how to read sometime back, most likely because someone taught you. This means you have lived long enough to acquire the skill of reading and I am certain a few others as well. It also means you have had some opportunities, maybe many, and you will have more opportunities today. You also could have chosen not to read this p-note, but you didn’t (which makes me glad); no, you decided to read it, to give dergremanshepherd (the German Shepherd) a small voice in your life today. You have made lots of decisions like that throughout your life, and many of vastly more significance, and you will make more today.

The story of your and my life is a story of receiving, from its very inception until now, and it will remain so until the very end. It doesn’t matter whether we think we have received the short end of the stick, gotten the shaft, were born into bad circumstances, have suffered from injustice, are trapped in poverty, had few good breaks in life, … The very fact we are breathing today, that we have opportunities to make choices today, even if they seem limited, verifies that every single day we have opened our eyes we have received. This means that someone gave, someone was gracious to us, and none more so than God, than Jesus Christ, For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

The truth is there is no one who comes close to having given us as much as God, as Jesus has; there isn’t anybody from whom we have received more. You would think the whole world would line up each day to say, “Thank you,” to brag about the goodness and graciousness of God. So, have you? And have you accepted from God the gift he thinks you need the most, his son, Jesus Christ? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16 (NIV). You and I need Jesus Christ because we not only need daily grace to survive in the temporal, but we need God’s grace even more for the eternal, in fact we are completely dependent on it.

All this receiving equips us and ought to transform us into givers. Many of you reading this p-note went to work today. One of the great things about work is getting paid (Can I get an “Amen!”), and one of the great things of getting paid is that it enables a receiver to be a giver, In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” Acts 20:35 (NIV). Let’s do that today, turn our receiving into giving, turn our receiving into thanksgiving and praise to God and Christ. Let’s not stop with today, let’s turn it into a lifestyle, like God who has been giving to us all our life.

To God be all glory. Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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How much can one story change things?

What comes to your mind when you hear or read the word, “Samaritan?” Chances are high that you associate “Samaritan” with someone who cares, someone who helps people in need, in fact very often you will find the adjective “good” added to Samaritan. This wasn’t always so. Most of the people who listened to Jesus the day he told the story of what we now call the parable of the Good Samaritan thought of the Samaritans in entirely unfavorable terms. Being called a “Samaritan” was a racial slur, a putdown, a declaration of being part of a people who were no good, were untrustworthy, and who had a long history of religious impurity and compromise. Worthless people, people you avoid, people you wished lived far away or not at all. When Jesus took his disciples through Samaria (a route serious Jews avoided) his disciples couldn’t wait to get out of there, so much so they were going to miss the kingdom opportunities staring them in the face (John 4:4-43).

Who are the people you don’t care for? You want to get away from as fast possible? Who represent to you all that wrong with the world? Who couldn’t possibly do much good if any at all? Who have this really lousy reputation? Who are discardable, dispensable, and reprehensible in your social, cultural, political, and religious context? Who couldn’t possible become an example of anything good?

Jesus told just one story (Luke 10:25-37), in the context of being asked about how to inherit eternal life and a subsequent question about whom we should love and whom we are free not to love and care for. Just one story of a right, caring, courageous, and generous act by a Samaritan, of all people, changed the way an untold multitude has thought of Samaritans across centuries all the way till now.

Beyond the larger context Jesus clearly reminded the questioner and all those listening in, including us, that we are constantly living in a story, and how we act our story makes a big difference, identifies who we really are, and what we want our world to be like.

Over the years I have officiated at hundreds of funerals, listened to thousands of stories being told, many, if not most recounting episodes of lives lived in selfish pursuits, of good times, funny incidents, personal successes, and too often of even the questionable dressed up to sound good. On the other hand, rare are the stories that tell of watershed moments, of when God-ordained detours where embraced, when self was denied in favor of doing what is right, and good, and godly. Stories of when new reputations were forged, when evil was defeated, when someone put him or herself in the hand of God and said, “Write away O God! Write what makes a difference, what counts, what epitomizes what caring, loving, and eternal values are all about.”

It is our great struggle, isn’t it, which stories to write and which to bypass, what to engage with and what to ignore, what to open our heart to and what to close it to, how comfortable and safe to be and when where to risk it, how much of God’s most fundamental commands to fully embrace or to justify settling for less. Jesus was unambiguous in his parting words to the one who prompted the story in first place, “Go and do likewise.”

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13 (NLT)

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (NLT)

Its Tuesday morning and as I am driving the 63 Volkwagen Bug into the church parking lot my mind is on the Serve component of making disciples (all real and growing followers of Jesus are active servants). As I pull in Erwin Crocker and his wife Barbara are pulling out. He obviously got here way before me and already vacuumed, swept, and took out the trash. From where I park the car I can see that Paul Baker has already mowed the bank between the highway and the church. Walking inside I find Nellie Sperry, Helen Kimball, and Janett Sturtevant (our church secretary, aka glue of the crew) in the church office counting the offering.

Yesterday it was no different, when I arrived Darrill Coffman was busy loading up his big truck with the luggage of all the kids going to camp (Centrikids). Inside Joy Miller, Nellie, and Janett were getting all the paperwork and financials for camp in order. Several of the drivers, including Jerry Criswell and Kim Martin were already there along with Counselors, Wendy Garcia, Davidmark Grabowski, Caleb Garcia, and Deseree Martin. When I opened my email Karin Souza had already sent out the B.A.T.T. update, including a link to a great song for 4th of July.

Two Days ago, Sunday afternoon, Randy Cogley, Troy and Ivonne Holt, Casey Hiett, Kristan Robinson, Dennis Kluding, Russ Warren, Grant Thompson, Savannah Garcia, along with three volunteers from our community, Emery Ross and his wife and Lynn Green spent six plus hours helping youth raise funds for youth camp (Centrifuge) by helping to park cars for the 4th of July Weekend fireworks on Don Pedro Lake. Many of them already spent their morning serving in some kind of capacity at the church.

Before Sunday afternoon rolled around there was Sunday morning. I am usually the first one here but Genevieve Aldrin was already waiting in the parking lot to drop off food for the fellowship time even though she didn’t feel well. After a while and long before everything starts servants are arriving. Troy Holt fires up the sound and multimedia equipment and deals with last minute things, making sure everyone can hear and that the words to songs and scriptures are right. He is usually followed by the musicians who come early to warm up and go over things one more time. They are followed by members of the kitchen crew, small group leaders and Sunday school teacher, who already spent time throughout the week preparing.

Sometime later today or this week Cristi Lewis will sneak in and clean the restrooms and anything else she sees still needing attention. David Redds truck will be down in front of the food basket building and he will be inside, often with a volunteer or two, working away preparing to serve hundreds of people with food.

I thank all of you for setting an example, for being faithful, for caring about the work of the kingdom, each other, and our community, and I thank you for sowing joy in my heart just watching you.

If you are new to our church and want to join in all of that serving ask yourself:

  • What do am I good at, what skills, abilities, and gifts do I have? – You can contribute that.
  • What or who do I have a heart for? – You will find joy and satisfaction serving there.
  • What needs stick out me, where do I sense I am needed? – Your help will be appreciated and make a difference there.
  • How much time do I have to commit?- Even an hour or two a week will be valuable and spread the load.
  • Who do I talk to find out more? – Of course you can talk with me the pastor, but you can also directly call our ministry leaders (they are listed on the back of the bulletin or you can call the church office and to get connect with them 852-2029)

To God be all glory. Keep it up, Join in. Love You, Pastor Hans

 

P.S. If you read this p-note and do not live in Don Pedro, get involved in a church where you live. If you live in Don Pedro God has placed you here for a purpose, join in here.

 

 

 

 

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At the moment everything around us is awash in color, predominantly variations of green, but what stands out from this canvas of green are the specks of poppy orange, the stacks of lupine blue and white, the intense purple in tangles of common fetch, and if you peek down the hill behind our barn when the sun is setting the soft blues brodiaeas light up like tiny light bulbs. It is amazing how little color is needed to stand out, how breath-taking tiny dabs of beauty can be.

I wonder what God is trying to teach us through nature’s yearly dress up gala. God does speak through the things he brought into being, he reveals things about himself through what he created, his existence, his power, his greatness, his imagination, and much more are declared from mountain peaks to the depth of the seas, in the deserts and jungles, at the end of a microscope or a telescope. But to me, this spring, it is the littleness and the loudness of the dots of colors that has my attention.

Many springs I simply mowed them down, after all, when you have to mow you have to mow. But this year I left unmowed circles where the flag signals of flowers let me know, “I am here.” If I mow them down before they finish blooming and go to seed they won’t be back next year, and I do want them to come back and in greater numbers.

Flowers are not the only ones who know how to be beautiful. We, formed in the image of God and unlike flowers, can chose to be beautiful anytime and anywhere. Sometimes, no oftentimes, to many times I tell myself that it takes too much effort, that I need gallons of paint to really make a difference, and so I won’t open my little half pint, my small heart, my drab imagination to splatter what little I have.

We know how to beautiful. We could be beautiful every day. We could indiscriminately splatter love. We could unleash the brilliance of kindness. We could be like lupines and bring splendor to someone’s roadside. We know of the beauty of generosity, compassion, help, selflessness, goodness, justice, forgiveness, and so much more, and that we are capable of them, even if it is in just tiny measures. We know how to speak beautiful, encouraging, healing words. We know how to be beautiful. God has made us to be beautiful. And yet, I have to be reminded to by the flowers of the field.

How glad are they? Those who live where God has planted you? How glad are they for the color, the beauty you add to their field, their lives? Do you do so well that even the wicked mow circles around your splashes of color, hoping there will be more of it?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Parts that do their part – beautiful

At the end of a movie do you linger and watch the credits? I usually don’t, but the few times that I have I was amazed at how many people it takes to make a movie. You need a lot more than just actors, directors, and writers. You need cameramen, makeup artists, bookkeepers, sound people, boom operators, special effects experts, stuntmen, wardrobe designers, set designers, logistics personnel, grunts, lot’s of grunts, electricians, carpenters, caterers, production people, and … No wonder movie making is expensive.

Take a look around, yup, right there wherever you are reading this, and think about all the things you see and how many people had to work together to make them and how many people it took for them to get to you. How many designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, workers, sales people, and … were involved?

Have you ever been wheeled into an operating room and managed to look around before the anesthesiologist told you to count backward from ten, and in my case knocked me out before I got to seven. From what I remember, it is a like beehive in there. Long before my doctor and his team ever got there someone had to get everything clean and ready. He wouldn’t do much operating if he had to do all the cleaning and prepping himself.

Every Christian is meant to serve on Christ’s ministry team from first the day s/he committed her/his life to Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV); it doesn’t matter who you are, where you have come from, or how gifted, educated or skilled you are, from the day a person is born again (John 3:1-21) by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ s/he is a part of the body of Christ, and thus has a function. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” Romans 12:4-11 (NLT).

You won’t be in the movie credits, you won’t be part of any manufacturing team for long, and you won’t stay on the operating room staff if you don’t show up faithfully and if you don’t do what you are responsible for. You will be a mess if your body parts are mere volunteers and not committed members who delight in doing what they are supposed to do for the benefit of all the others. Serving in the body of Christ is much more than volunteering, it is about each part doing what the head, Jesus (Colossians 1:18), wants his body to do, and when Jesus’ body moves as one, doing what he wants, it is a beautiful thing.

So show up, be committed, be dependable, do your part.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy (trustworthy, reliable) people who will be able to pass them on to others. 2 Timothy 2:2 (NLT, parenthesis mine)

I remember exactly where I stood, next to the sound-booth in the back of the sanctuary. We, Davidmark and I, were talking about youth ministry. Actually I did the talking, because I had been leading the church’s youth program (again), after a disastrous departure of the previous youth-pastor. I expressed the need for someone else to step in now that the dust had settled and asked Davidmark to pray with me on this matter. That’s when he let out that he had been considering stepping into this roll, “Really?” I said.

He, Cindy, and his children did indeed step into that role and gave it their all for the past eight years. They built their lives around that ministry, rearranged things, opened their home and hearts to scores of teenagers, teaching them, praying for them, and helping to carry their burdens. They learned on the fly and experienced both the joys and heartaches of ministry. They proved themselves to be a gift from God to us as a church, our community, and to me as the pastor.

God always looks first at the heart, and we do well to do the same. God is also good at knitting hearts together to carry out his purposes and the work of Christ’s kingdom. Whatever Davidmark and Cindy lacked in the beginning their hearts as servants of Jesus were exactly as they should be, and still are. In fact the challenge was often to help them focus on doing less rather than volunteering for more (especially Davidmark). So God paired a Polish mailman and a German preacher to serve him here in Don Pedro.

I will miss coming to church early on Sunday’s only find Davidmark already there making coffee and ready to pray together. I will miss the haggling over who forgot to inform the other. I will miss our exchanges on all kinds of things because our brains are wired so different. I will always give thanks for this faithful man and woman whose love for and faith in Christ has both a fire and tenacity. I pray they will seamlessly engage in God’s work in Modesto.

As for us, I will in the immediate timeframe lead our youth-ministry with those who have been helping Davidmark and Cindy. We will look to expand that team. I ask you, the church, to pray for new leadership, including a search for a permanent youth pastor/leader. I am praying for some of you to fill roles I need to relinquish in order to do a good job leading the youth. I am asking God for someone or more than one to join me on early Sunday mornings to get things ready and to pray.

Today however, I look back and give praise and thanks to God for the Grabowskis – Davidmark, Cindy, Jonathan, Joseph, Joshua, Joy, and Jacob.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

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Can you picture two lovers without them having all kinds of hopes and dreams? I can’t. Hope thrives on love because real love is intrinsically hopeful, it wants to hope, it can’t help it. Love has the fragrance of hope, and in my case the scent of Wild Musk, at least when it comes to Susie. You spray a little Wild Musk into the air anywhere and anytime and immediately I will think of and look for Susie, it will instantly awaken my lover’s heart for her.

Have you ever driven by or walked through an orange or lemon orchard when it is in bloom? If you have, you know what overpowering fragrance is like. Even the few citrus trees in front of my house spread out a blanket of sweet perfume in the springtime – glorious. The weeds surrounding those trees don’t do that and so I treat them differently, I spray them with Round-Up (weed killer) while I fertilize the orange, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and mandarin trees. I have no hopes and dreams for the weeds other than to eradicate them, but I smile at just the thought of those trees blooming, I can picture the beauty of the bright colors of the fruit against the dark green leaves, and I am hoping that this year we will get to harvest more sweet fruit than ever, enough for us and to share.

Hope is fueled by love and love is never without hope, but they are also not without hate. Neither of them have any affection for evil, for that which is unloving, which is incompatible with love and hope, which erodes them, destroys them. It is that very reality which makes all of this so difficult, and often makes us unloving, destroyers of hope. After all, how do we decide what and who to legitimately love or hate? What should we hope for in terms of what should be and what should be eradicated?  “I (Jesu Christ) say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” Luke 6:27-28, 35-36 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

It is one of, if not the great challenge of lovers, dealing with that in ourselves and the other which isn’t so lovely, which is more weed than delicious fruit, which threatens and attacks the love we feel and the hopes and dreams we have, even the things that are legitimate to hate. For example, “Here are six things GOD hates, and one more that he loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family” Proverbs 6:16-19 (MSG).

I want to love, I want to hope, in fact I am certain God wants me and you to be committed to both. It is one of the reasons I try to stick as close to God as I can, I need his help, I need him to guide me and teach me on this. He is the greatest lover and hoper there is. I on the other hand am prone to be narrow in my love, depraved in my hopes, selective in my mercy. I easily love what I should hate and hate what I should love. I have even hurt those whom I profess to love, squelched legitimate hopes and dreams, acted more like a stink weed than an orange blossom. Oh to get love and hope right.

To God be all glory. Happy Valentines. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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