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Archive for the ‘better’ Category

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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“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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“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NIV).

It was not what he was hoping to hear, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He wanted the fix-it grace, the grace that makes it go away, the grace that makes weakness, pain, and suffering disappear.

“Why others and not me?” The healing, delivering, restoring power of Christ had worked through Paul countless times, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” Acts 19:11-12 (NIV).

If you had to choose between deliverance from pain and strength to cope with pain, which would you prefer? If you have physical limitations or handicaps would want restoration or grace to bear it? If as a parent (since it is Mothers’ Day) are both at the end of your wit and your rope what would you ask for, sufficient grace or fix-it grace? Dumb questions.

Paul did ask for fix-it grace, because there is nothing wrong with asking for healing, deliverance, restoration, and permanent change. Our Heavenly Father has given us the green light to ask away (Matthew 7:7-11, James 1:2-6). Paul didn’t just ask once, but twice, and again. Then he got a clear word, a definite answer from God, “Your thorn in the flesh will stay, your weakness will not be taken away, your pain, struggle, and frustration will not just dissipate, but you will receive sufficient grace, for today, and tomorrow, and every day after that.”

It can knock you for loop, when God grants you sufficient grace when you asked for fix-it grace, when God hears your request but responds to it differently. We see little purpose in pain, suffering, sickness, limitations, handicaps, frustrations, trials that last, and … It is easy to get confused when the God of love for whom nothing is impossible doesn’t fix it and instead hands us the cup filed with sufficient grace. It is tough drinking water while others are sipping champagne.

Many criticized God and Christ and walked away at this intersection of receiving sufficient grace while asking for fix-it grace. But Paul didn’t, after hearing, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” he adjusted himself to Christ’s answer, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV). We’d much prefer for God to adjust himself and acquiesce to our requests than the other way around.

Sufficient grace is never cheap grace; it is not lesser than fix-it grace. When God gives us the cup of sufficient grace it is because that is exactly what we need. Paul recognized that this sufficient grace kept him humble, it kept him much closer to Christ, it made him depend on power far greater than his own, and realized that Christ shines through women and men who embrace and live out of his sufficient grace.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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You know you can grow it, and the more you do the more you have to share, to give away.

If you have tried your hand at growing a vegetable garden you are probably familiar with both a radish and zucchini surplus. Somehow those two just love to grow faster than you can eat them. The problem is that people who love to do the vegetable garden thing usually hang out with other such people and collectively they have planted too much and thus sharing becomes a moot point. Next thing you know you see zucchinis the size of a weightlifter’s arm appear in large boxes in the foyer of the church with a desperate handwritten sign, “Free, take all you want,” but no return address.

We are meant to grow them: faith, hope, and love. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV). For four reasons: 1. They are absolutely essential to being like Christ; 2. It is impossible to please God without them; 3. They make us strong; 4. They enable us, force us to set out our boxes of surplus, because they are a lot more valuable and needed than zucchini and radishes, and should never go to waste.

We are also meant to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, in the midst of a godless, struggling, dark and often hostile world, But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 3:18 (ESV). I am pretty sure we are meant to export that too.

Can you imagine your life, your (our) church, your (our) community, your (our) country with an overabundance of faith, hope, love, grace, and life in Christ? Daily packing a box full, considering ourselves to be the sign that reads, “Free, take all you need,” and then taking our overflowing box to where it is most needed, to where or to whom you might not want to go but the Holy Spirit compels you to go.

Faith, Hope, Love, Grace, Christ seek engagement, want to flow like water, want to light up the dark, bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the weeping, feed the poor, heal the sick, liberate the captives, awaken justice, ennoble politics, replace hatred, battle evil, and save the lost.

So grow, grow, grow and go, go, go – in Jesus’ name.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Greatness

They were rebuilding the temple, the capital, their country. They celebrated, shouted, danced, and had a great ceremony when they dedicated the new temple foundation. It was the right thing to do, this was a great day, things were going upward. Some however, a small crowd of old people, wept (Ezra 3:12). They remembered the old temple, the one Solomon had built, the time when silver was counted as nothing because of the abundance of gold (2 Chronicles 9:20). Haggai the prophet told Zerubbabel to ask those old survivors, Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” Haggai 2:3 (NIV).

Great, Greatness looks different to different people. The CEO might be celebrated by the shareholders because the stock price went through the roof, but the workforce might be cursing his name because their work conditions and meager wages. There all kinds of halls of fame, awards ceremonies, and prestigious prizes (especially here in America), all of them highlighting and celebrating greatness in some field, but while some cheer others weep, what looks good on the stage might me misery at home.

Of course I am bringing all this up because the words “greatness,” “being great again,” is echoing across the land, primarily in terms of patriotism, protectionism, power, and prosperity. We will be great when we are first, when we win, when we prosper.

In some ways there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t just want to be mediocre, no good citizen wants their country to be so-so, and certainly not be a mess. There are noble aspirations. But just what and who defines noble aspirations for a person and a people? Not you and me, not the cheers of the masses, not the memories of the aged, not the evaluations of the experts, not who has the most, not who is the most eloquent, accomplished, or educated. God alone is able to define true greatness, for the simple and most obvious reason, there is no one greater. His greatness has never faded, it bears no flaw, it is unchallenged and glorious beyond compare. The greatness of God also informs us that true greatness and morality are never separated; we cannot be truly great and be unholy.

When God the Son, Jesus Christ, walked among us in human flesh he confronted his followers, his disciples on the issue of greatness. Their aspirations were unholy, they were jockeying for cabinet posts, they thought it was mainly about national politics and to simply make Israel great again. Scheming behind the scenes – acceptable. No transparency – acceptable. Not caring about some – acceptable. Making it all about power – acceptable. So “He (Jesus Christ) asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” Mark 9:33-35 (ESV).

“But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 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’” Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT).

We are called to flesh out this kind of greatness. We are not at liberty to reduce Jesus’ clear instruction and command (“must”) to merely our private sphere. We must take on the challenge to realize Christlike greatness in all personal, public, political, and pressing realities of our day. We will never be really great unless our definition of greatness matches God’s. We will never be really great if our aspirations for greatness do not inspire what is good and right and holy, right where we live and for all people/s.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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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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Give thanks in everything (in all circumstances), for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (HCSB, parenthesis mine)

Don’t worry (be anxious) about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:6-8 (HCSB, parentheses, mine)

Some things are easy to be glad about, be grateful for. For instance:

  • I am grateful for, and indebted to, American Veterans, who liberated Germany from Hitler and his version of hell on earth, who safeguarded West Germany from the scourge of communism, who have valued and stood for liberty with more than just words.
  • I got to vote because I am privileged to live in a democratic country, where religious liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and democratic principles have struggled and survived for over 200 years.
  • Every time I open our refrigerator I am greeted by an abundance many can only dream about.
  • This morning like most every morning I sat down and opened my Bible, my very own copy of God’s written revelation, the living word of God that is able to instruct me, grow me, impart truth, wisdom, strength, and discernment to me.
  • I woke up, and there next to me was this beautiful face, my gift from God, my love, my wife, my best friend and companion.

When it comes to things that are easy to be grateful for I could on for pages and I suspect you could to. But the “give thanks in everything,” the being worried, being anxious, being so desperate you reaching and crying out to God and do it “with thanksgiving” is quite another thing. How difficult is it to be grateful:

  • When your political candidate and party lost the election.
  • When you are in constant pain.
  • When you lost your job.
  • When your children (regardless of their age) or parents make lousy decisions.
  • When tragedy strikes.
  • When you or someone you love has an addiction.
  • When you are mourning and grieving.
  • When you are broke and can’t make ends meet.
  • When you are being taken advantage of.
  • When you are treated unfairly, unjustly.
  • When the work-stress is overwhelming.

I am sure we could continue for pages in that vein as well.

Is it as puzzling to you as it is to me that “giving thanks in everything” is “God’s will for you and me? That God expects me/us to learn to give thanks in the midst of worry and stress? That gratefulness and thanksgiving is meant to be a way of life, of dealing with life, of staying anchored in life, to the point that not practicing it puts us squarely outside of God’s will?

The good news is that regardless of our temperament, personality, background, wounds, and fears, this can be learned. Everyone of us can learn to “give thanks in everything,” to live a lifestyle of gratefulness, to not abandon thanksgivings in worry and stress, to stay focused on the right things in the midst of the grind of life. The amazing thing is that when we do so we end up being better people, with a peace we can’t explain, looking and sounding more like Jesus, which is always a really, really good thing.

To God be all glory. Love You, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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