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Lord Jesus Christ,

Son of God, Creator, Sustainer, Savior, High Priest forever, Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world, Redeemer, Friend of sinners, head of the church, your very body and bride.

We, as a local representation of your body, your flock, your fellowship, your family,  your church lift up your name, worship you, and give thanks for you to God the Father, for who you are, what you are, and what you have done.

We thank you for loving us when we were unlovable, enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins, without hope, without merit, lost and condemned.

We stand amazed that you would seek for us, come to us, offer us your very life; extend to us mercy and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, salvation and eternal life.

We marvel that you would pour out the Holy Spirit on us, entrust the Gospel to us, and consider and call us to be your body, your representation, your presence in this world in our time.

Lord, today, as the Lake Don Pedro Baptist church we pray for your harvest here where you have placed us. We are struggling to bring it in. Show us what we are missing, where we are lacking. Multiply the harvest workers. Forgive us where we have been slack, lazy, preoccupied, and unwilling.

Lord, this year teach us about payer. Prayer that is larger than our daily needs, deeper than our concerns for health, safety, comfort and good times. Teach us about prayer that enters the battle against temptation, the unmovable, the demonic, evil and the evil one. Teach us to love and pray for more than our friends and families – but our enemies. Teach us how to ask for more according to your will. Teach us how to pray in power and faith.

Lord, we want to be pleasing to you. So please, show us where and with what we are not accountable, where we are putting our own interests before yours, where we are uncommitted to that which you want us to commit to, where we are unconcerned where your heart breaks, where we are proud instead of humble, where we are selective in the application of your word, and where we resist and grieve the Holy Spirit.

Lord, you challenged us to be childlike in our faith, to be harmless and wise at the same time, to care about sinners, peace, justice, mercy, the lost, the displaced, the outcasts, those not like us, even the very least of humanity. Give us the heart, the will, long-term obedience to engage ourselves, to get dirty, to be worn out, poured out, and used for your glory and kingdom.

Lord, you told us to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross and follow you, to love you more than father and mother, children, friends, and country, to be radical in dealing with our sin and be patient with the sins of others, to go into and live in this world, in Don Pedro, Greely Hill, Coulterville, and La Grange like you did Jesus, and there to make disciples. We again commit ourselves to all of these, asking you for the strength, the power, and perseverance they require.

Lord Jesus, we love you, we love belonging to you, being led by you, and being your church, together here in this place. You alone are worthy, O Lord, to receive blessing, honor, power, and glory.

Amen

 

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Abram – the Church- and Spiritual Maturity

What you live for and what you’d you die for says a lot about you. Maybe even more importantly who you live for and who you would die for. It tells of what is important to you, who is most important to you, what you’re passionate about, whom and what you value, what is most precious to you, what you hold most dear, what means the most to you.

Abram (most of us know him as Abraham) needed to sort something out with Lot his nephew. Both men were very wealthy but they needed to separate their ranching businesses. Abram, the older, told Lot to pick, “If you go right I’ll go left. If you go east I’ll go west.” The first thing Abram did in his new location was set up an altar to worship God. Lot picked what was easier and also better for the bottom line and settled close to Sodom. Sodom promptly got invaded, lost the war, and Lot and family ended up as captives, plundered of their wealth. As soon as Abram heard of it he organized a force to go and rescue Lot and the other captured people. After the battle Abram encountered Melchizedek the priest of God and made and offering, he gave a tenth (tithe) of all the spoils to him. The king of Sodom asked Abram to just give him his people back and told him to keep all their retrieved possessions. But Abram refused – he wanted no part of the stuff of the people of Sodom; he knew it came with strings attached (if you want the details, read Genesis 13-14). Now what does this tell us about Abram, who and what he was living for and who and what he was willing to die for?

  • He didn’t live for stuff; he wasn’t greedy. He was willing to settle for less, was generous, and didn’t want other folks’ things.
  • He cared about peace and was willing to humble himself for it, sacrifice the easy for it, take the shorter end of the stick for it.
  • Seeking and worshipping God came first, even in a new place.
  • He loved family; he was willing to die in the effort to rescue Lot.
  • Honoring God with his wealth was important to him; the blessing of God was important to him.
  • He valued his freedom; He didn’t want to beholden to anyone but God.

So what does Abram have to do with the church? He illustrates that true men and women of God live for and are willing die for certain things, they chose to live by different values – by things important to God. Few things are as important to Jesus as his church; he died for it, “… Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” Ephesians 5:25 (NLT). Jesus considers the church his bride – family, no wonder he was willing to lay down his life for her. Growing in our relationship with God, maturing in our faith in Christ means that, like Abram/Abraham, we increasingly love what Jesus loves, we more and more live for what is important to God, and we order our lives around what God values.

Join a sound church today. 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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Getting a room ready to observe the Passover, borrowing/renting an economy car/donkey, organizing a mass feeding, taking care of the money and the books, delivering letters, taking care of the needs of widows and orphans, using their homes for ministry, hosting guests, helping the needy, cleaning up and dressing a healed lunatic, instructing others in the word of God, help start a church, rowing Jesus around in a boat, participating in church leadership, helping with the worship services, greeting visitors, encouraging others, visiting the sick and imprisoned, organizing and engaging in relief ministries, organizing, music, prayer, … That’s what we find Christians, followers of Jesus doing in the New Testament.

Did you notice what I left out of that list? Yup, the spectacular, the miraculous, the extraordinary things Christians are recorded as doing as well, not that those are unimportant. My point is that all of the above is service and that service is central to the Christian life, the Christian community, the Church and its mission. In Acts 19:11 God was using the Apostle Paul in extraordinary ways (“extraordinary miracles” – I thought miracles were already extraordinary), but in Acts 18:1-4 the same Apostle Paul works for a tent making outfit to support himself for ministry on the weekend. Paul understood something that every believer needs to understand.

  • God had saved him and his life was no longer his own, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20 (NIV).
  • We are saved from sin to serve, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved… through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV).
  • Every believer is assigned and empowered for service by the Holy Spirit, The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”
    1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NLT)
    “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).

At some point, and hopefully sooner than later, every believer has to go from just showing up regularly (hopefully you have that down) to committing to service, going from consumer to contributor, from flapping your wings at the edge of the nest to jumping off and flying. So this week talk to your pastor and volunteer yourself to service of some kind, either for the first time or because you need to get back into it. There is no glorifying God, no being like Jesus without serving. “For even the Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 (NIV, parenthesis mine).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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I don’t understand it, never have, Christians proclaiming the unimportance of the church, Christians thinking that somehow living in community with other Christians is optional, Christians proclaiming their love for Christ but not loving the things Jesus loves, “… Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean …” (Ephesians 5:25).

The level of scriptural ignorance and/or willful dismissal regarding the importance of the church, the body of Christ, the local manifestation of the family of God is both as staggering as it is sinful. Maybe you are already objecting, “Whoa preacher, that’s getting out big stick, the “sin” hammer, mighty quickly.” On the contrary, I challenge you to find anything in the New Testament that makes belonging to, being part of, attending, and serving in a church optional. All the excuses are just that, excuses. The words for putting yourself outside of what God has put you in are sin, disobedience, rebellion, living according to your own will. Swift and clear was the Apostle Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians Christians regarding being factious, only being around those they liked, dismissing the fact that they were to be completely interdependent on each other and needed to have a deep appreciation for each other: “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” …  “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, NLT).

You and I can never be the church on our own. We cannot be the church watching spiritual TV programming, listing to podcasts, reading stuff on the internet. The only way for us to be church is to live in community with each other, working together, growing together, praying together, worshipping together, serving together, doing the Christian life together. Anything that stays from all of that is simply a bad habit, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV, emphasis mine). Notice some of the implication for every believer.

  • Want to grow in and persevere with love and good deeds? You need the church.
  • Discouraged? You need the church.
  • Are all about theological issues like eschatology and the end times? It should drive you to deeper participation in the church.

When I first became a Christian a wise deacon gave me the following advice, “Hans, beginning today start reading and living the Bible every day. Secondly, wherever life takes you seek out fellowship and life together with other believers.” I could not have received better counsel. No Christian thrives without the Word of God and without participation in the body of Christ.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Next Sunday, December 4, we will have our annual business meeting. Our Agenda entails the usual items of approving the 2017 Church budget and the election of officers, but this year we are also considering permitting women to be deaconesses. That of course has the potential for conflict because opinions and interpretations of scripture vary widely on that subject. I think it is important for me as your pastor to remind us of some things.

The reasons for why we are looking at this matter this time is that the church leadership structure we adopted in 2013, which consisted of an Official Board made up of only ordained Deacons was not working due to deacons moving, dropping out, and prohibitive work schedules. The Board at most meetings had insufficient numbers to make official decisions, and no deacon trainees were in the pipeline; the polity was too ingrown and was not serving the church well. Thus, we as church charged the Board last year to recommend options and changes. This necessitated the discussion of who is eligible to serve on either a single Board model or a two Board model, and only the church body has the authority to make that decision.

This morning in our church Bible reading, God, through the Apostle Paul, reminded the Corinthians and us, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB, emphasis mine), and, “Let all that you do be done in love” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB). Both scriptures remind me of what I teach at every Membership Seminar:

  • In Essentials (things of first importance) we have Unity.
  • In Non-essentials we have Liberty.
  • In All Things we have Charity.

I have studied the matter in some depth and over the past weeks have asked you to do the same, and invited you to ask questions, talk after the services, call or email me (although few have done so). You can also pick up a small sample of scholarly commentary of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and Romans 16:1-2 illustrating the point that this is both a non-essential and an issue Christians and Christian scholars have come to differing interpretations and opposing conclusions. Permitting women to hold the office of deaconess is not stepping outside the bounds of scripture or heretical. It is an issue that is within the boundaries of Christian liberty, of our church determining church structure and polity. We already have varying opinions and preferences on this subject in our church family and it has not kept us from functioning in harmony and love. So regardless of what we decide, we need to determine to continue with that same harmony and love.

It is also important to remember that deacons are not elders, bishops/overseers, or shepherds/pastors. All three of these terms describe the same office (1Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:17&28) and the qualifications for it are set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9. The office of deacon or deaconess and its qualifications are a recognition that in a church, leadership besides pastoral leadership, is needed (Acts 6:1-7), both to aid the pastor/s and keep the church healthy and growing. All leadership in the church is servant leadership. The very word Deacon is translated servant. The entire church is based on a servanthood model, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” Galatians 5:13 (NASB). Whatever authority the church entrusts to any member is servant authority, anyone who seeks office in the church simply for authority sake should automatically disqualify him/herself.

So, when meet on December 4th what you and I want, prefer, and are used to is not the issue, hopefully we will all the check that at the door and pray as we enter, “Father, fill my sisters and brothers and I with the Holy Spirit and bless us here and now with wisdom, unity, and peace.” When we cast our votes on this and any other matter let’s keep in mind it is not about winning and defeating but about seeking what is best for the church, discerning the will of God as best as we can, and doing so within the parameters of God’s Word and with the love for one another by which all people can see that we are Jesus’ disciples.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making our way around Glasgow I couldn’t help but be reminded of Christianity’s powerful past influence, the effects of John Knox and the Reformation, and the wealth generated by the British empire and the industrial revolution. Large, imposing church structures still dot the skyline. An enormous statue of John Knox dominates the “Necropolis”, a Victorian era cemetery that is like nothing I had ever seen.

On Sunday morning we worshiped with a Baptist congregation around the corner from where we were staying. They had just finished their version of Vacation Bible School, and the place was packed. That afternoon we toured the Glasgow Cathedral. The sound of the mighty pipe organ and a small choir filled the place. They were practicing for the regular afternoon service about to start. We sat down to worship there as well.

Everything about a cathedral makes you feel small, the sheer size of the structure, the front doors, the pillars, the high ceilings, the booming sound of the organ demanding you to listen. The stained-glass windows are tall spectacles of color, telling stories, filling the room with light from above. They are placed high on the walls, keeping you from looking out, or even looking around, but drawing to look up.

I loved sitting there, listening, hearing the Scripture read, joining in the singing, feeling small, reminded of the majesty of God and that he dwells in a “Cathedral” (Temple) not made by human hand (Acts 17:24). It was also strange. Strange because only a few people present in the cathedral bothered to sit down, were interested in worship. All through the service tourists scuttled about, admiring what man had built, without thought for whom and what is built.

A number of these old church structures no longer house a congregation. One of them had been converted to a bar and restaurant, another housed a mosque, one was a visitor center, and some stood empty. This is not only true of Glasgow but all around Europe and the United States, and it saddens me. Yes, these structures are enormously expensive to maintain, the old pews or chairs are really uncomfortable, and they make you feel small, even insignificant. But they used to house congregations who met there to worship, to hear the word of God, to pray.

It is not only the buildings that are difficult to maintain. In fact, they still stand long after the congregations that inhabited them have died. The fellowship, the spiritual family, the people who constitute a church, who are a living expression of the body of Jesus Christ, are a much more fragile thing. Living things are generally more fragile than wood and stone. This is why the Gospels, every letter, and all the authors of the New Testament remind us to diligently maintain the faith and the community of faith, to strive and work together for the glory of God, to build up the body of Christ, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, to practice holiness, to engage in spiritual accountability, to encourage, care for, and love each other. Our experience of coming together, of being the church, should cause members and visitors alike to look up, to be humbled, to worship.

 “I (Paul), … beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” Ephesians 4:1-6 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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