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Have you ever had a question to which you already knew the answer, but you didn’t like the answer?

“Yes, stop smoking, exercise, and change your diet,” was the doctor’s reply to his smoking, overweight patient asking, “Hey Doc, is there anything I can do to improve my health?”

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Luke 10:25-28 (NIV)

This Jesus/God testing lawyer knew the answer to his question, but he didn’t like the answer. It’s even worse when the answer comes out of your own mouth, isn’t it? When you know you are and hear yourself being a living discrepancy. So, this lawyer did what you and I usually do, try to justify ourselves, tell ourselves why we can’t, why it is too difficult, fish for something simpler, a way out, find an excuse to not change. But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 (NIV)

He was asking for a pill that would spare him having to act, not have to give up anything, change nothing. He was trying to excuse his not-neighbor-loving passivity by raising a philosophical/theological inner dilemma. He was fishing for a minimum standard, like love is in the habit of functioning by minimum standards. He wanted to remain in control instead of his love for God and people controlling him. He was looking for some legitimacy for selective loving or loving not at all.

Jesus never does answer the “who is my neighbor?” question, instead, he tells maybe his most famous story and asks a question in return, makes the God-tester say the answer out loud for the second time. In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise”
Luke 10:30-37 (NIV).

The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” it is, “Are you a neighbor?” Because when you are a neighbor you see like a neighbor, you empathize like a neighbor, you have compassion like a neighbor, you engage like a neighbor. You no longer are trying to complete a checklist of love before taking off to eternal life/heaven but see life, people, circumstances through the eyes of love and react accordingly.

Maybe it is time to drop the excuses, the action-paralyzing mind-games, the magic pill search that will remedy our selectively loving or outright loveless hearts and begin to “love your neighbor as ourselves.”

May you and I, long before we go to heaven, be known as the kind of neighbors the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” envisions.

To God be all Glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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When a doctor gets sick of sick people, that’s a problem. When a pilot begins to loathe flying, that’s a problem. When a cook becomes disgusted by cooking, that’s a problem. When a teacher starts disliking students, that’s a problem. When a preacher/pastor hates church, that’s a problem. And, when Christians are down on the church, that’s a problem.

So, think with about the church for a minute:

It was Jesus’ idea to form the church, “… I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” Matthew 16:18 (NLT2). So to think of the church as something irrelevant and unimportant or worse is to call Jesus’ plan for his church a bad idea.

Jesus is the head of the church, “He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” Colossians 1:18 (HCSB). So, it makes little sense to proclaim a personal relationship with Jesus but have no connection and submission to his church.

Jesus loves and died for the church, “… Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her” Ephesians 5:25 (NLT2). So, how can I claim to love Jesus and love what he loves and paid the ultimate price for?

The church is 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. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part” 1 Corinthians 12:13-14 (NLT2). So, since the same Holy Spirit who regenerates a sinner at the moment of salvation also places every believer in the body of Christ, I have no business living a life outside of that body.

The church is central to God’s plan and work in our world, “Through Christians like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” Ephesians 3:10 (MSG). So being apathetic and disconnected from God’s church also I am not fully participating in God’s plan.

Jesus takes his church very seriously. So, he continually works on it, refines it, confronts it, encourages it, watches out for it, Revelation 2-3, Ephesians 5:26), and should not take it any less serious.

Church, being part of a church, participating in the work of the church is meant to become a habit, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV). So, I need to learn to be so involved and committed to the church that I no longer have to think about my commitment to it, my participation in it, my showing up for it.

We live in an I-Me-Mine culture, the Christian life is a stark contrast to this, it is about Him-You-Us-We (which is not to say that God does not care for each one of us individually and in Christ saves each one us personally). Switching from one to the other takes some major adjusting, reordering, rescheduling, and a total commitment to personal holiness and full participation in the body of Christ, his Church.

So, did you notice? This preacher is still high on Jesus’ Church, and the local body he has called me to pastor, hoping you will share the same appreciation and enthusiasm.

So, does your Christian life reflect an understanding of Christ’s church? Are you as committed the church, the body of Christ, as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit would have you?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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VISION 2020: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR!

All kinds of new laws went into effect today, January 1, 2020, fewer restrictions on marijuana, no hair discrimination in the workplace, the Real ID Security Act, the California Consumers Privacy Act, … Not that they are all bad or not needed, laws do have to keep up with changes, should strive for greater justice, protect freedom, and help us to function as a society.

Romans 13 – is my New Year’s reading recommendation for you. It has everything in it to cheer you up: Governmental authority and leaders, taxes, rendering honor, and to top it all off, not getting drunk and going wild partying. Just exactly what you need to hear on one of the great hangover days of the year.

In the middle of Romans 13, you will find an old law that should never come off the books, “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’ These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law’” Romans 13:8-10 (NLT2).  All of God’s laws in regard to our interactions with others, concerning how to function as people and peoples have as their foundation “love your neighbor as yourself.” According to James, this is the highest, most supreme, “royal” law (James 2:8). The only greater law is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Of course, because of our broken, narcissistic, sinful hearts, we read this outstanding law of “love your neighbor as yourself” and immediately make it about us, our need to love ourselves first, think of ourselves first, our own needs, our own limitations… But did you notice? This supreme command is about love lived out in concrete actions, specifically self-denying actions, that benefit our neighbor most of all. According to God’s wisdom, this forms the very bedrock of living together in harmony, peace, kindness, and prosperity.

We are not living in a time when “loving your neighbor as yourself” is all of the sudden more important than it has been at any other time in history, but we are living in a time when loving yourself, your own group, your own people, is what comes first, the mantra drowning out the two most important and beneficial laws of human existence, interaction, and thriving, the most critical rules when it comes being and acting in the image of God (Genesis1:26).

2020 needs you and me to love our neighbor as God intended and like our world and future depend on it.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

P.S. Maybe you are asking a question asked before, “Who is my neighbor?” For an answer read Luke 10:25-37.

 

 

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This morning I filled my coffee mug twice, my Musli bowl and stomach once, and all my morning hours even though got up way early. This past week we went camping with the family so we filled the truck bed with camping gear, the gas tank with diesel, the ice chests with food and drinks, several garbage bags (to the delight of the raccoons), our bellies with camping cuisine, our time with adventures, and our memories with joy.

Face it, in living life we do a lot of filling up, we have to, we get to, and it makes a difference what we fill up with.

  • It makes a difference what you put into our body, both in how well it functions and what it will crave.
  • It helps to fill up your bank account every now then, you’ll have less stress and you can pay your bills. But it also makes a difference whether your deposit was earned honestly or otherwise.
  • It is inevitable that your time will be filled up, but what you fill it with will determine if it is wasted or used wisely.
  • It makes a huge difference what you fill your mind with because it will establish how you think, what you will dwell on, and how you process life.
  • It is a vast distance between a heart filled with hate, bitterness, pessimism, grudges, and revenge, and a heart filled with love, kindness, optimism, goodwill, and forgiveness.

All of the above the Word of God/Bible addresses because it knows the realities of life, including the constant filling that we are engaged in. As followers of Christ, we are as engaged in these constant filling tasks and activities as much as anyone else, however, if we are going to be wise and godly when comes to this constant filling up in life the following are indispensable:

  • Constantly being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-20). Which means to continually yield control to him in all we do, wherever we are, and in all we plan.
  • Constantly filling our mind and thinking with the written Word of God, the Bible (Psalm 1). Which means taking time to read it, meditate on it, and then trust it enough to apply it to real life.
  • Constantly praying. Which means running everything by God, seeking his will, his wisdom, his guidance, his presence, his glory, and refusing to live without it (Matthew 6:9-16).
  • Constantly living in community with other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). Which means I recognize that only together with others can we be the body of Christ, and I need sisters and brothers in Christ pouring into me even as I pour into them (1 Corinthians 12-13, Ephesians 5:21)

Most every morning I get up and brew some coffee for Susie and me, filling my mug, usually at least twice. I didn’t always do that, but now I am pretty consistent with it. The same has been true of the four constant fill-ups I need as a follower of Jesus, a Christian. It took me a while, but now my life feels like an empty coffee cup in the morning without them.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)

We got blessed the day Paul and Diana Baker walked into our church. At the time we had no idea just how great a blessing they would turn out to be, but now, years later, we know, and how we thank God.

They had built a beautiful retirement home, presumably to do a lot of bass fishing at Lake McClure and Lake Don Pedro. But I don’t think they ever did all the fishing and retirement stuff they had anticipated. Instead, they became ever more deeply involved in the life and ministry of our church family. The fishing boat got underused and their “free” time got overused in serving Christ and his local church here in Don Pedro. How we have benefited from that selflessness, yet how we thank God for it.

It is kind of surprising they stuck around after the first visit. Two Assemblies of God folks in a Baptist church lead by a German. Talk about being fish out of water. It made us better, this humility, this willingness to give some things up, this lack of insistence for their own comfort zone in order to further the work of and bless the body of Christ here in Don Pedro.  Oh, how we thank for it.

I can’t tell you how many hats they have worn working, serving, and ministering in our midst. I do know this much, there is no way I can juggle as many plates. Maybe it is all Diana’s fault, because, besides all that she did, she unleashed Paul and thus enabled this whirlwind, who became to us and always will be to us, Pastor Paul. How we thank God for that.

God knew what both our church and I personally needed. I sure needed a friend, someone to help carry the load, a brother to I in navigating some of the toughest times in my life and ministry, an encourager to cheer me on when I was far from my best. As such, how I thank God for Paul.

They flew this selling of their house and plan to go traveling under the radar. They knew I, and we would be praying against it with all our might. I think they also knew doing it any other way would be just too hard because this love between us has become a two-way street, or more accurately, a multi-lane major highway. And, how we thank and praise God for that.

To God be all glory. How we love you, Pastor Paul and Diana.

Pastor Hans

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I have been awake since 2:00 am and now it is 5:00 am, I think it is a combination of jet-lag and malaria pill side-effects. I was just falling asleep again when the Imam at the nearest mosque decided to be the first with the call to prayer, but he was early at 4:40, and soon, but unfortunately too late for me, realized his mistake and powered down his pa-system. He regrouped though at 5:00 and now is going really strong, and I think he is dueling with others I can hear further away. It is quite the early morning audio experience.

Yesterday, as we drove all over the city of Arusha (Tanzania) I noticed that there are walls everywhere and was struck by the contrast of what lies on either side of those walls. Walls to protect, to hide, to keep out, to lock in, to separate, to impress, to …

We had dinner with Pastor Goodluck and his wife Glory. The small apartment they rent is behind compound walls, where, besides a number of other apartments with plumbing, electricity, and satellite tv hookups, there were also five healthy milk cows in a nice stall and a Mercedes parked under a cover. In contrast, right outside their walls were rockpiles trucks had dumped and women sitting on the ground were hammering them all day long into gravel small enough to use for concrete.

We finally found the store we had been looking for to supply us with Bibles and Libraries for pastors. It had relocated to a downtown mall for foreigners, and as you might have guessed it, it was behind a fancy wall. Across the street was a broken-down old wall that served as a backstop to poor people buying and selling.

Tumaini Cottages, where we are lodging, is surrounded by walls. The rugged dirt street leading to it is a walled maze. Inside of our walls, it’s like an oasis, secluded, lush, serene. The scenery outside of our walls is beautiful from a distance, but close up it is raw, dirty, full of contradictions, greed, and need, – overwhelming to my heart and mind.

Walls are a reminder of our brokenness, our sinfulness, individually and collectively. It is no wonder that scripture tells us that Jesus Christ the Savior, Redeemer, and Reconciler of all people is also the one who, “… tore down the (dividing) wall we used to keep each other at a distance” Ephesians 2:14 (MSG). It is, of course, easier, and often cheaper, to build walls. It certainly is less messy. And it is not that the people on one side of the wall are better than those on the other. Isiah 56 speaks of eunuchs and foreigners for whom the dividing wall was built so they would be excluded and kept out from the worship and presence of God, prevented from full participation, condemned to the outside looking in. Christ tore down that wall in keeping with God’s vision and heart for all people. Let’s not make the mistake of putting God’s wall tearing down vision solely into the future, or deceive ourselves into thinking that we ourselves have no wall tearing down responsibilities, or shift Christ’s tearing down of the wall solely into the realm of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) with no application to all of life at the present. Jesus tore down this wall over 2000 years ago and expected his community, the church to be a visible example of what it looks like to live without walls, to be the dreamers in a broken wall-filled world, to live with changed hearts. It cost Christ his life to tear down that wall, to tear the separating curtain in the temple, to break the wall of sin in each of our hearts. Living in and for a world without walls is not cheap, but Jesus thought it, you and I, were worth it.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. We are writing to God’s holy people in Colosse, Don Pedro, Coulterville, and La Grange, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. May God our Father give you grace and peace.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 1:1-2; 3:12-17 (NLT2, italics mine)

The church, our church, the Lake Don Pedro Baptist Church, and any other church is meant to be God’s/Christ’s community within the community where it is found. This community within the community is comprised of faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, women, men, children, and young people whom God has chosen to love and called to be holy.

This community, assembly, fellowship, and family of followers of Jesus, of Christians, is meant to be a living example of Jesus and of what God envisions for all human community. Thus we are meant to be committed to one another and clothe (our clothes are what others get to see, and we purposely put them on) ourselves with:

  • Tenderhearted mercy
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Making allowance for each other’s faults – being real
  • Forgiving one another as Christ forgave us
  • Loving each other
  • Having the peace of Christ rule us – Seeking harmony, unity, and peace
  • Always seeing ourselves to be vitally connected to other believers
  • Gratefulness, thankfulness
  • Focused on Christ and the Gospel
  • Teaching, counseling, helping each other
  • Praising, singing, worshipping
  • Doing all to the glory of God

Can you imagine a community where these are the consistent practice, the continual focus? It is nothing short of glorious, it’s an oasis, it is a slice of heaven. But we have to learn them, we have to internalize them, commit ourselves to them because they do not come naturally to us. So, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus then ask yourself, “How committed am I to God’s community, Jesus’ body, the church?” and, “How committed am I to make God’s community in my community to be a shining example of the very life of Jesus?”

Depending on your answers above, and according to the scriptures at the top of this pastor’s note, what steps do you need to take in regard to God’s community, Jesus’ church?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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