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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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My Church, My Family in Christ,

I have never been a great fan of Halloween, although I did drive my kids and their friends around to collect candy. Jacob Kluding might recall the first time he went with us as a little kangaroo, which was a hit on the cuteness scale, which in turn meant he had the largest candy haul I had ever seen. He might also remember the inebriated lady in a nightgown who opened the door and fell out in slow motion like a swooning ghost and the only reason she didn’t crash to the ground was a handful of kids propping her up. Funny? Yes. Memorable? For sure! But nowhere near as meaningful as Thanksgiving, especially the actual giving of thanks.

I thank God for you my church family. I am blessed to serve you as your pastor. I am thankful you treat me with grace, with generosity, with goodness, and gratefulness. If I am honest, I am amazed you have put up with me for as long as you have, but I am ever so glad you did. I would have crashed and burned a long time ago were it not for a long line of you who helped me, encouraged me, bore the load with me, challenged me, taught me, cheered me on, validated me, and diligently prayed for me. Thank You.

I have been encouraged a time or two to write down the stories of my long journey with you and of being a pastor here in Don Pedro. It would have to have a chapter of the plain weird and strange, of animal calls that seminary did not prepare me for, of more I wasn’t prepared for, of trials and disappointments, of the mysterious, the glorious, the inexplicable, of brothers and sisters, of heard prayers, and much more. But above all it would be a thankful book, dripping with gratitude for deep bonds, rich love, and living and ministering in Christ together.

I cannot tell you how often I drive onto the church campus am already blessed by seeing people serve in all kinds of ways or hear stories of church members living out Christ during the week that make me proud to be their brother and pastor.

This week Monica Sult deserves some special thanks for not only spearheading the Community Thanksgiving Dinner but also filling in at the church office for Jannett.

Matt and Wendy Garcia have taken on the youth ministry leadership role earlier in the year. Talk about a major commitment. They deserve three cheers, our thanks, our support, and our prayers.

This pastor’s note would get far too long if tried to name everyone but here are a few more of our brothers and sisters who have taken on responsibilities and stepped into service opportunities: Beverly, Jose’ and Beatrice, Russ, Security Team members, Jerry, the other Jerry, Merle, Bill, Jacob, Suzette, Ray. Thank You!

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

 

 

 

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Springtime, wake up time for rodents, ants, spiders, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and bugs. I know, spring doesn’t officially begin until March 20th, 9:15 am to be exact. But the above-mentioned critters don’t give a hoot about official anything, nor do they respect boundaries, comfort, property rights, or someone else’s hard work. They do pretty much whatever they want, wherever they want, and whenever they want.  They come by stealth, mass invasion, through the air, underground, at high noon, twilight, and under the cover of night. Relentless I tell you, destructive, unapologetic, and even dangerous.

I want them gone, out of my yard, away from my home, gone. If you want them, if your heart has a soft-spot for them, you can have them, the whole lot. A spider on my bedroom ceiling is not going to get the chance to play cat burglar and lower its multi-eyed self down on my bed in the middle of the night; it is going to get “splat!” The ground squirrels, wood-rats, mice, gophers, moles, voles will not encounter kind mercy; they will be trapped, shot, and poisoned when possible. The wasp eying my steak in its shifty flight will be permanently uninvited. The ants trying to homestead around 10417 Blanchard Road will meet the full brunt of available extermination methods. Not a single mosquito, kissing bug, beg bug, or termite will be tolerated, be invited to take a little sip or take a small bite, nor be merely trapped and released. Flies will be met by swatters, fly-papers, scented traps, and available chemicals; they will never receive permission for fly or stopovers.

Striking, isn’t it, how the first paragraph above could easily describe wicked men and women, mankind in unrestrained sinfulness, and how the second paragraph could easily portray the harsh and merciless measures and attitudes mankind has used against each other.  Is it right to hate wickedness, to yearn for and work toward a world without it? Absolutely, but we have to be careful not to act wicked our own self. Keeping critters and pests out of my house is different from stomping on them when I go on a hike. I can put up screens and seal cracks before getting out the swatter or setting deadly traps.

Of course, there is also the matter of worth. There is no question that even the life of the ground squirrel living under our playhouse and undermining the old trees in my backyard is amazing, regardless of it shamelessly mocking me this morning. However, there is a difference between all men being created equal and in the image of God, and all life being created equal. The first is true the second is unsustainable. So who gets to assign worth? God does, and has, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26 (NIV). I hope you notice that different worth does not mean God doesn’t care about all of his creation, in fact not a single sparrow falls from the sky apart from God or is forgotten by God (Matthew 20:29; Luke 12:6-7). Obviously, for God, there is no tension counting a person as more valuable than a bird. For us, however, there is great tension in managing God’s creation responsibly, daily living and survival, and our own sinfulness.

I imagine that God is vastly more disturbed about the wickedness of mankind, one person treating another, valuing another like a rodent, like a pest than you and I are about actual rodents and pests. God could have responded to our wickedness without mercy but instead, he both reaffirmed our value and his great love for every man and every woman in the cross of Christ. Because of his great mercy and love he “is not slow in keeping his promise (of final judgment and justice on all wickedness), as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV, parenthesis mine). We, the church, followers of Christ, worshippers of the one living God should do no less, at home, in our communities, our countries, our politics, our policies, and our attitudes.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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How much can one story change things?

What comes to your mind when you hear or read the word, “Samaritan?” Chances are high that you associate “Samaritan” with someone who cares, someone who helps people in need, in fact very often you will find the adjective “good” added to Samaritan. This wasn’t always so. Most of the people who listened to Jesus the day he told the story of what we now call the parable of the Good Samaritan thought of the Samaritans in entirely unfavorable terms. Being called a “Samaritan” was a racial slur, a putdown, a declaration of being part of a people who were no good, were untrustworthy, and who had a long history of religious impurity and compromise. Worthless people, people you avoid, people you wished lived far away or not at all. When Jesus took his disciples through Samaria (a route serious Jews avoided) his disciples couldn’t wait to get out of there, so much so they were going to miss the kingdom opportunities staring them in the face (John 4:4-43).

Who are the people you don’t care for? You want to get away from as fast possible? Who represent to you all that wrong with the world? Who couldn’t possibly do much good if any at all? Who have this really lousy reputation? Who are discardable, dispensable, and reprehensible in your social, cultural, political, and religious context? Who couldn’t possible become an example of anything good?

Jesus told just one story (Luke 10:25-37), in the context of being asked about how to inherit eternal life and a subsequent question about whom we should love and whom we are free not to love and care for. Just one story of a right, caring, courageous, and generous act by a Samaritan, of all people, changed the way an untold multitude has thought of Samaritans across centuries all the way till now.

Beyond the larger context Jesus clearly reminded the questioner and all those listening in, including us, that we are constantly living in a story, and how we act our story makes a big difference, identifies who we really are, and what we want our world to be like.

Over the years I have officiated at hundreds of funerals, listened to thousands of stories being told, many, if not most recounting episodes of lives lived in selfish pursuits, of good times, funny incidents, personal successes, and too often of even the questionable dressed up to sound good. On the other hand, rare are the stories that tell of watershed moments, of when God-ordained detours where embraced, when self was denied in favor of doing what is right, and good, and godly. Stories of when new reputations were forged, when evil was defeated, when someone put him or herself in the hand of God and said, “Write away O God! Write what makes a difference, what counts, what epitomizes what caring, loving, and eternal values are all about.”

It is our great struggle, isn’t it, which stories to write and which to bypass, what to engage with and what to ignore, what to open our heart to and what to close it to, how comfortable and safe to be and when where to risk it, how much of God’s most fundamental commands to fully embrace or to justify settling for less. Jesus was unambiguous in his parting words to the one who prompted the story in first place, “Go and do likewise.”

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT).

When I turned off the engine in the parking lot of Mission San Miguel Arcangel, off Highway 101, the thermometer in my truck read 109 degrees (42.8 Celsius). The heat sucked out the air-conditioned coolness of the cab as soon as we opened the doors. It was only a few steps to the entrance of the mission but the sun still managed to give us a good hard slap before we made it into the shade of the long covered porch. Inside we were greeted not only by very nice lady but by an incredible coolness. 200 years ago, long before the power grid and air-conditioning, or triple pane gas-filled windows they obviously know something about how to build dwellings that stayed cool in the heat.

Even for a construction layman like me a few things were obvious: The several feet thick walls keep cool in and heat out. The porches surrounding the outside and the inside courtyard prevent the sun from directly hitting the walls. The windows are small and few. (I wonder how many people got yelled at for leaving a door open). And of course you can’t build something like that overnight, this is more costly and labor and time intensive than nailing a few sticks of lumber together and covering them with siding and sheetrock.

We also wondered about the criteria for picking the spots of these Missions. One of them was distance between one Mission and the next, but the most crucial criteria was a source of water that could sustain people, livestock, and crops, even scorching and prolonged heat.

Living in Central California we know that the heat will come, the rainfalls will cease for months, rivers will shrivel into trickles or dry out all together, North-winds will blow and bring unbearable heat waves. Life is like that, filled with dry-spells, the unbearable, and that for which we must prepare (if we are wise). God continually tries to direct and equip us so we can not only survive, but thrive, prosper, and stay cool in the heat of life. Central California is an illustration of that too. What looks so dry, scorched, and barren is also home to one of the greatest agricultural marvels when you combine it water, foresight, knowledge, work, and the discipline good farming requires.

In a very real sense every believer in Jesus is called to be a Mission, an outpost, an oasis, but we do not become one unless:

  • We draw a clear line between the godly and the wicked (Psalm 1:1, Jeremiah 17:5-6).
  • Trust and hope in God completely and exclusively (Jeremiah 17:7)
  • Love, know, and implement the word of God (the Bible), the wisdom of God, and the ways and principles of God (Psalm 1:2).
  • Acquire the skills, habits, and strength required to build what lasts and bears fruit (2 Peter 1:1-8)

One last Mission observation, they were large complexes, built for more than just one person but for entire community. They provided shelter, cool, and life for more than “me.”

Stay cool. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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