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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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 “The time has come,” he (Jesus) said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

“… unless you repent, you too will all perish. Luke 13:3 (NIV)

It didn’t look like it was all that bad, but actually it is worse and getting worser. I am talking about the 1963 Aristocrat LoLiner camp trailer Susie and I are trying to fix up. One corner in the front showed some water damage, but now, that all the siding is off, it is evident that all four corners have water damage. At this point I am wondering if I will ever get the whole thing back together. I am tempted to just make the whole thing a flatbed trailer. I asked Susie if I could simply mount a portable toilet, a barbeque, a couple of outdoor chairs, and leave enough room to pitch a tent. However, I have learned a few things about rot:

  • Rot doesn’t look so bad as long as it is covered up.
  • Just getting to the rot is a lot of work, exhausting.
  • Seeing the full extent of the rot is discouraging.
  • Seeing the rot all exposed makes you wonder if the whole thing is worth it.
  • Figuring out how to fix the rot is overwhelming.
  • Fixing all the rot will take a lot of time, effort, and much more money than it seemed at first.

Of course we are just talking about a 14-foot camping trailer. There is the option to just scrap it or as mentioned turn into a flatbed utility trailer or go with the hillbilly camper option. That, however, isn’t an option when comes to rot in our lives, our families, even the rot in our culture and country. The temptation always is to cover it over, to come up with a quick-fix that doesn’t solve the real problem. A case in point is the left upper corner of the Aristocrat sitting exposed in our driveway. Some time back it rotted to the point it would no longer hold the staples that hold the roofing. The temporary fix was to screw some peg-board like material over the edge and then triple staple to that with longer staples. It obviously held for a good while, but it also allowed the rot to progress. More and longer staples, more screws, and lots more caulking may hold us together for a while longer but it never stops the rot and the eventual collapse.

All of the prophets of God down to Jesus himself preached repentance, “You must deal with the rot!” Not just some of it, but all of it. It is one of the major reasons many don’t care for God, about taking up life with Jesus. To have everything exposed that you have worked so hard to cover up and hold together feels incredible humbling and scary. To give Jesus a shot at rebuilding you and restoring you is long term commitment that goes much deeper than you think at first.

Why give Jesus/God a shot at your rot?

  • No one but Jesus can fix what is at core of all human rot – sin.
  • Jesus was a carpenter; he is very good at doing it right.
  • Jesus is the Son of God; he is able to fix the worst.
  • He cares for and loves you and me more deeply than anyone. He died for our sins, to deliver us from our depravity, to address all that is rotten with and within us.

Now you can pretend that none of this applies to you, go on and staple and caulk some more. But the truth is that you need to repent, to address the rot and sin of your life by letting Jesus Christ in and allowing him to go work.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)

 I hate to admit it, but I am not as sure footed as I was when I was 25. I was reminded of that last time I went trout fishing on the South Fork of the Tuolumne river. I used to be able to rock hop and leap all over. Now I am much more prone to stumble and fall. In fact, I hit the deck twice a few weeks ago just navigating around my yard. I blame it on my current back struggles and how they affect my left leg.

I watch my grandson trying to gain stability on his young legs. He too, spills regularly, but he doesn’t fall as far and his bones are softer than mine. Yet, if he fails to gain stability on his legs his life will be much tougher, much more bruised, and much more limited.

Of course we don’t just stumble with our legs. Ever stumbled with your mouth? Didn’t find the right words? Made a mess with the words you did manage? Wish you could somehow take them words back?

We stumble with our emotions. For many, their temper and anger (how they express and manage it) trip them up time after time. They continually make them stumble. For others it is depression, or anxiety, or paralyzing fear.

For some it is money, the making of it, the managing (actually mismanaging) of it, the spending of it, the love of it, that time after time causes them to stumble, to upset their lives, to add enormous stress and worry.

James is right when he writes, we all stumble in many ways” James 3:2 (ESV). People have stumbled over their ambitions, jealousy, because of their friends, relatives, how people have treated them, injustice, and ….

Jude’s main concern in his short letter next to the last book of the Bible is far too many people stumbling spiritually. I can attest to that after pastoring for 32 years. Heck, all I have to do is look in the mirror and get a glimpse of a stumbler.

Stumbling is a special concern to me as a Dad and now Granddad. I want to model and contribute to the stability of my children and grandchildren, and that is tough to do if I stumble too much, especially spiritually. There is absolutely no one better at helping me/us when it comes to stumbling, gaining balance, acquiring stability in life with all of its challenges and twist and turns, than God and his Son Jesus Christ. There is no resource better than the Bible (God’s written revelation) when it comes to building the strength of mind, heart, faith, and habits needed to avoid stumbling. There are few foundational habits as important as gathering weekly with other stumblers to encourage each other and worship the one who daily offers his almighty hand to keep us from stumbling.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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“Oh grow up!” Has anyone ever told you that? And have you, are you growing up?

There are a few ups that go with being grown up, like:

  • When to shut up and when not.
  • What to put up with and what not.
  • Who to lift up and who not.
  • What to give up and what not.
  • When to give up and when not.
  • Who to look up to and who not.
  • What to stand up for and what not.
  • Who to stick up for and who not.

He was about to throw a fit, my grandson, because he wanted to watch his favorite TV show NOW! That’s to be expected from an almost two year old who still has a lot of years of growing up to do, of growing out of a world that circles around him. If his parents raise him like grown-ups, they will have no interest in keeping him a cute little Bonsai. They will dream of him developing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They will want his character to develop and grow. They will not encourage immaturity but foster maturity. They will expect him to grow up. They will rejoice and be glad if does, and they will be troubled and heart-broken if he doesn’t, A wise child brings joy to a father; a foolish child brings grief to a mother” Proverbs 10:1 (NLT).

God, the Heavenly Father, also wants you and me to grow up. He fully delights in us as babies, toddlers, kids, adolescents, and young adults (both physically and spiritually), but his expectation is for us to grow up, “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).  “Grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” Ephesians 4:15 (ESV). “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” 1 Peter 2:2 (NASB).

Real, full maturity, never happens apart from God and his Son Jesus Christ. But we are not automatically mature, spiritually grown-up, just because we claim to be Christians, because we have trusted in Jesus for salvation. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles Peter and Paul believed that. Maturity, spiritual growth, grow-upness doesn’t just happen, it is acquired and learned through practice and right/wise decision making. The “O grow up!” verses you just read highlight three indispensable things for growing up in a way that pleases and delights God:

  • Having and Emulating the right models, beginning and ending with Jesus Christ.
  • Being part of the right family. Ephesians 4:15 above is in the plural, written to the members of the family of God, the church.
  • Learning the right definitions and practices as spelled out in God’s written word, the Bible.

So, how growed up are you? If someone were to emulate you would that help him/her in growing up in a way that pleases not only you but the Heavenly Father? What do you need to change and what do you need to embrace and practice to grow like God would want you to? I pray you and me will be so committed to growing up that God continually has reason to say, “Son/Daughter watching you grow up brings nothing but joy to me.”

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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