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It looked terrible, totally unappetizing, no way I was going to eat those two large Mason jars filled with canned steelhead. “That’s an awesome gift,” my friend, who knew the giver, “He doesn’t give these to just anybody, and two jars at that.”

“Well, it might be a real special gift, but there is no way I am going to eat that. It looks sick. You can have ‘em.”

“I’m not going to take them unless you taste some,” he said while opening one of the jars. He got two forks and scooped out a big bite with his, “Mmmh, mmmh! that’s good,” he grunted.

So, I reluctantly followed his lead and stabbed myself a little piece, closed my eyes and stuffed it into my mouth, “Wow! That is incredible. You’re not getting this, you can get your own jars,” I informed him, while he just grinned from ear to ear.

I almost gave away a special gift and missed out one of the most delicious things I‘ve ever tasted, simply because I didn’t like the way it looked and because I was I was unwilling to open the jar and give it a try. I can’t tell you how often I have seen the above play out spiritually.

We are meant to grow “in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) after we made commitment to follow him, after we put our faith and trust in Christ to save from our sins, from the power of death, and from the eternal judgment of God. For that growth to take place we must open the food pantry of God’s written word (the Bible), take the lids off the jars we find there, and start eating what is in them.

The good news is that not everything in God’s word looks as unappetizing as those jars of canned steelhead. Peace and joy look pretty good me, as does living without debt, having a clear conscience, being hopeful, good habits, getting a handle on anger, … On the flipside our old self, our old habits, our sinful nature have little appetite for whatever God gives us, delicacy or not. Our old self is perfectly content with both spiritual fast food and junk food, with living according to our old ways, according to our own opinions and preferences, and settling for little or no spiritual growth. James indicts the readers of his letter (including us) for looking at God’s cupboard stocked with stuff to help us grow, only to walk away to eat what we have always eaten, to do what we have always done, “… ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.  But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does” James 1:21-25 (HCSB).

In the immediate context James pulls four jars out of God’s spiritual growth pantry and opens them up while handing you and me a fork. The first jar addresses how we need to deal with anger (1:19-20), the second is about our need for staying spiritually and morally clean (1:21, 27b), the third is about having a godly mouth with Christlike responses (1:26), the fourth jar is meant to help us grow in our responses to people with needs, to people who often forgotten and oppressed (1:27a), and the (1:21&27b).

You can show up Sunday after Sunday and have the preacher tell you about how delicious the stuff in these jars is, you can read your Bible every day and become an expert in reading the labels on the jars, in your small group Bible study you can discuss in great detail the nutrition information on the back of each jar, you can become good at identifying people who are obviously not eating what is in those jars, and yet never put the fork in your mouth yourself.

The way spiritual growth works is that we have to apply what is in the jars at the very moments their content directly applies, when I am angry, when I am confronted with moral filth within or without, when my mouth spouts ugly, when I am confronted with needs and am called upon to help. If I don’t use my fork there and eat I will not grow.

Spiritual growth does not take place by neatly organizing the cupboard, by having all the labels pointing into the same direction, by memorizing the inventory. It takes place when we take out the right jar and eating it all right when and where it applies. If, after deciding to follow Christ, the way I handle my anger has not changed, if my mouth is as negative, vile, judgmental, and unkind as ever, if my response to the needy, forgotten, and oppressed remains apathetic and uninvolved, then I have simply been looking at the jars without eating what is in them.

Get out your fork, eat what God in his word is currently setting before you. You will be amazed at how good it is, and your growth will become evident to all.

To God be all glory. 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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“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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Salvation without transformation is misinformation that results in damnation.

If your house has termites how many of them do want to be gone, for how many do you pay the exterminator to get rid off? How much of the termite damage do you want your contractor to fix? I imagine your answers were, “All of the termites and all of the damage.”

If you were to get sprayed by a skunk (and I have), how much of that foul smell does your spouse want you to wash off before coming to bed? I imagine your answer would be, “All of it, and make sure you put on a hefty dose of cologne.”

How much of our sin, our depravity, our moral and spiritual rot and filth do you think God’s grace is trying to address? How deep do you think the grace of God is trying to sink into our hearts and lives? How much does God’s grace want to change in us and about us? The answers to these questions are, “All of it, to my very core, and more than I imagine.”

The grace of God aims to be transforming. There is no way to drink from the cup of God’s grace and be unchanged. If you remain unchanged you haven’t swallowed. As James puts it, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), meaning: you can’t believe in the love, grace, and mercy of God (salvation) and live unchanged.” If the love of Christ has touched us it compels us to love. If our sins are forgiven we should be forgiving. If we have received mercy it should make us merciful. If the joy of God and his salvation has filled us we should be joyful and positive. If the goodness of God is real it should cause us to desire to do good. If the peace of God keeps our hearts and minds we should pursue peace. If we have benefited from the patience of God we should be patient with others. If the selflessness, the obedience, the faithfulness, the kindness, and humility of Jesus has in any way worked in our favor then we ought to embrace the same.

Somehow we are very comfortable with saving grace, who doesn’t want to go heaven? We love the everyday grace of God, the grace that makes the sun rise, the rains fall, puts bread on our tables, and gives us opportunities in life (Matthew 5:45). We don’t complain about delivering grace, healing grace, God-helping-me out grace, that would be foolish. But how quickly we begin to resist transforming grace, when God wants to replace more than a few roof shingles, when he starts scraping off old paint, lays bare the rot, starts messing with our values, our outlooks, our attitudes, the way we react and interact, and puts our motives, our pursuits, and lifestyles on the table.

After following Jesus for almost forty years I still find surrendering to God’s transforming grace most challenging. I am amazed and ashamed how resistant I can be, how many self-deceptive excuses I can conjure up, how quickly I can deflect, and how disobedient I can be. I pray to be like the Apostle Paul, after having an opportunity to tell king Agrippa of his conversion, of the time when the saving grace of Christ met him, quickly added, “So … I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19 NASB). What a statement of surrender to transforming grace.

When it comes to transforming grace we face a triple threat:

  • All of our old scripts, the defaults of our sinful self. O how good they are in pulling us back, helping us to revert, to revel in saving grace while resisting transforming grace.
  • Declaring ourselves changed enough, holy enough. Resting on past progress and viewing ourselves in comparison to others has a way of making us resistant to present obedience.
  • Thinking of grace only in passive terms, God saves me by his grace, God will change me by his grace, and finally God will glorify me his grace. That however is not the whole truth; God’s saving grace compels us to believe, to repent, to confess, God’s glorifying grace is preceded by perseverance, and God’s transforming grace requires our cooperation and obedience.

Read the first sentence again. None of us needs just a little bit of Jesus, a little bit grace, we need all of Christ and all of God’s grace, anything less is self-deception, will make us pull up short of God’s marvelous grace (Hebrews 12:15). On the flipside, there is nothing like being transformed by God’s grace, We all … are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (HCSB).

To God be all glory,. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Here in Central California we’re not used to days and days of rain, bundles of sunshine – yes, buckets of rain – no. Of course, if you just get sunshine you will soon live in a desert, get too much rain and the collective power of little raindrops spells disaster. Go too far in either direction, be exposed to the extremes of both sunshine and rain and our existence becomes increasingly marginal, more and more precarious.

After years of drought we needed to be inundated with rain, we needed to be doused with precipitation far above the normal. We were on the very precipice of disaster, all our wealth, ingenuity, and technology none withstanding. We had to change our ways and conserve. Things that were a luxury, like green grass and decorative shrubbery, no longer got water. We showered less, flushed less, and continually thought of how to use less. We didn’t like our shrinking margin of existence, we were frightened by this continual inching towards disaster. So, we watched with joy when the rains came, when dormant streams were resurrected back to life, when the rivers swelled, and when our lakes rose and filled.

We wanted things to get back to normal, normal being that which we were used to; being able to turn on the hose without thinking, without worry, without the threat of being penalized. And now that we have had enough rain to expand our margins, to relax the conservation rules, to not having to worry for a few years, we want our sunshine back, we want the rain to accommodate our schedules again.

We find it hard to adjust ourselves to new normals. We much rather have everything around us work in a way that sustains or returns our normal. This way we do not have to change our habits, our routines, our expectations, our dreams, our comfort level. This is true spiritually as well and is one of the major challenges of the Christian life, adjusting ourselves to a new normal, adjusting ourselves to God, to Christ, to a life with the Holy Spirit, to an existence ordered by faith, scripture, and community (church/the body of Christ).

An unwillingness to adjust ourselves to the new realities of a life with and in Christ causes us to yearn for the old normal, which in reality never has been normal, but sinful, depraved, self-absorbed. It leads us to diminishing God, a Christ without a cross, syncretism, and religious pluralism. It sets Christ up for failure (although he cannot and will never fail) because Jesus Christ did not come to submit himself and support our normal. Without our submitting to the normal as Christ defines it, we will be sooner than later be disappointed by his lack of support, by the lack of water, by too many rainy days, and move on to someone or something that acquiesces more readily to our normal, to a life that requires little faith, fewer adjustments, and less obedience.

The crucified, risen, and exalted Christ still calls, “Follow Me,” (Mark 1:17, 10:21) and if we do we cannot remain in that which was normal before we followed. It means making many changes in our hearts, minds, outlooks, desires, dreams, values, actions, and reactions. It means giving up all desire to ever return to anything that was and felt normal without Christ. “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT). “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Pastor Paul,

Starting this Saturday, April 1, 2017, Pastor Paul is retiring from being the Associate Pastor. He will miss the pay, $ 0, that’s for sure. Diana will miss him down at the church all the time. She’ll will no longer be able to say, “Don’t you have something to down at the church,” when she wants him out of the house. And she won’t have to fret over what else he committed himself to when she wasn’t paying attention.

All kidding aside, Paul and Diana are real gift to our church. In all of my years here few have involved themselves so readily, so deeply, and so faithfully. As Associate Pastor Paul lead and oversaw the Ministry Leadership Team, the Facilities Team, Amazing Grays, Advertising and Promotion, Majesty Adventures, Kitchen Team, and the Website, besides visiting, counseling, and leading an Adult small group. His energy and commitment to do it right amaze me. But more than that it is his heart to please God, to seek and do what is best for us as a church that has so enriched and blessed us. The good news is that Paul and Diana are neither moving nor leaving (you know how much I hate for people do either), but will continue to be involved in some of the above but without the pastoral responsibility. This gives opportunity for you and others to step up.

My favorite thing about Paul is that I can trust him, completely. He cares about you and me and us as a church as deeply as anyone. Even when I frustrated him, consternated him, disagreed with him, or disappointed him Paul has continued to serve, invest himself, and love deeply. I think he well deserves to be a little bit more retired and be a little bit less tied down. I think Diana, his kids, and grandkids will love that.

Three scriptures come to mind as a write this note:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” Philippians 1:3 (NASB). 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever” Psalm 133:1-3 (NASB).

“What then is Apollos (Hans)? And what is Paul (Baker)? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NASB, parenthesis mine).

Thank You Paul and Diana.

With deep gratitude and praise, 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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