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Archive for the ‘encouragement’ Category

Go ahead, click on the picture icon on your built in computer, called your mind. Then click on the folder “Favorite People.” I am willing to bet that the faces in this file bring a smile to your face, that they cause your heart to feel good, that you are grateful these people are part of life, are stuck in your memory.

You probably have different reasons for filing these people in this file. Maybe you put them there because they made you laugh a lot, or maybe because they helped you, or because they influenced you in a positive way. Maybe they stuck with you when you were struggling, messed up, or were an outright jerk. Maybe it was their generosity, their kindness, or their goodness. Maybe it was their quirkiness, their spunk, their imagination, their courage, or their humility that made you decide to stick them in your “Favorite People” folder. Maybe you didn’t even make a conscious choice to stick them there and they just somehow invaded, somehow just showed up in this most precious file. But no matter how or why they got there you are grateful that they are there.

Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers,” is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (1:2 MSG). That lets you know where Paul filed these folks in his heart and mind, doesn’t it, because there are two groups of people we think about and pray about more than anyone else: 1. Those dearest to us, and 2. Those we dread and struggle with the most. Clearly the Apostle counted the Thessalonians in the first group and lucky for us he tells us how they ended up in his “Favorite” folder. He highlighted:

  • Their “work of faith” (1:3), their faith in action, that they didn’t just sit around talking spiritual but acted like Jesus would act. People like that are real.
  • Their “labor of love” (1:3), which implies both the right actions and the right motivation. People like that are like a breath of fresh air.
  • Their “endurance inspired by hope” (1:3 NIV), which lets us know that they weren’t quitters, they knew how to grind it out and stay positive and hopeful at the same time. People like that are inspiring.
  • Their willingness to change and grow (1:6 & 9), they didn’t adapt God to their wants, customs, values, and comfort level but let God shape them through the Holy Spirit, the message of God’s word, and the example of Paul. People like that are rare.
  • Their willingness to take on responsibility to be both godly/Christlike examples and to be messengers of the Gospel of Christ (1:7-8). They laid things on the line in word and deed. People like that are encouraging.

It’s no wonder why they ended up being among Paul’s “Favorites.”

What remains for you and me is to figure out why the Holy Spirit/God had Paul record this, why this was preserved for us to read? May you and I become “Favorites,” reasons for joyful remembrance, the content of thankful prayers, and inspirations to follow Jesus for all the right reasons.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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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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Heavenly Father, God of Hope,

As 2017 lays before us like a vast unexplored expanse we turn to you to lead, guide, and direct us. We seek more than to merely survive the next 365 days, than to just make it through. We want to be people of overflowing hope, people empowered by the Holy Spirit with uncommon hope, extraordinary hope.

Father, Christ taught us to pray to not be led into temptation and to be delivered from evil, and we do ask for both. Deliver us from the temptation to be spiritually uninvolved where you have placed us. Deliver us from the temptation to hope little, from just hoping for a little health and little good fortune for a few dear to our hearts and ourselves. Deliver us from the kind of hoping that requires little faith, little prayer, and little engagement. Instead lead us to people and into situations where there is little or even no hope. Lead us where there is confusion, sentimentality, and lots of wishful thinking, but no real hope. Throw us into circumstances, places, and lives where we have to depend on you, where what only you can do matters, where your kingdom and the kingdoms of this world clash. Put us where overflowing hope, real hope, eternal hope is needed. Put us where our hearts brake and weep because of the brokenness, sinfulness, and hopelessness we encounter there, where we are forced to be more than consumers of hope but to be sowers of hope, agents of hope, givers of hope, where we have to seek you to refill us again and again with the hope only found in you.

How we thank you God that you have called us to a life with you the God of hope, the God whose compassions do not fail, whose mercies never come to an end. 2017 will not lack evil, but none of us will have to be overcome by it, you have more than enough strength to give us to overcome evil with good, you do know how work all things together for good for those who love you and are called by you. Lord we ask that the Apostle Paul’s prayer for our Roman brothers and sisters long ago may be realized in us, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” Romans 15:13 (NIV).

Hear our Prayer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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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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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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But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV).

Yesterday was a great day, my grandsons came up (well, Mom drove them). The one month old mostly slept and holding him that’s pretty much all I wanted to do too. The twenty-month old came with a to do list on his mind: Feed the chickens, put up the swing and try to wear it out, play guitar, get into the truck, and help Opa any way he can. He wore me out.

All week long I have been thinking about victory, it is what I want for my grandsons, it is what their parents hope and pray for, it is what I hope and pray for both you and myself. But I have lived long enough to know that defeat lurks around every corner, even in victory defeat doesn’t surrender. Don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating for being paranoid, that is a form of living defeated (sometimes also mental illness). But I have looked into defeated little faces in kindergarten, in fancy houses, on the other side of the world, in hospitals, churches, food-lines, and in the mirror. I have seen some of the vast arsenal defeat has as its disposal, words that wound and maim, violence that shatters, poverty that chokes, injustice that demoralizes, foolishness that wrecks, hate, bitterness, betrayal, pain, suffering, disappointment, regret, helplessness, seeing those who you love self-destruct, ruts too deep to get out of, evil, the evil one, wickedness, sin and its inherent twistedness and self-deception.

I wish there was a shot to inoculate my precious grandsons from all of the above, because I know they will be assaulted, defeat will try to bust through their doors throughout their lives. They will come to plenty of forks in the road where they will be forced to choose between the road to victory and the path to defeat. So I want to be a contributor to victory in their lives, after all the joy is in victory not in defeat.

You, me, and my grandsons can learn a lot about victory from history, from examining people who overcame, who triumphed, who refused to give in, cave in, or to give up. History will also expose us to people who did great things, won tremendous victories and ended in utter defeat – the final verdict on victory comes after we cross the finish line. But hands down, the greatest, the best source for victory is God and his written word (the Bible). Anyone who lets the Bible shape their character, determine his/her decisions, heeds its wisdom, relies on its power, submits to its authority, and takes the hand of the God and of the ultimate victor, Jesus Christ, will live victoriously, will overcome, will even overcome the onslaught of death. I pray these grandsons of mine will have an Opa who will serve as a life-long example of living out God’s word and they themselves will embrace it with all of their hearts, because if they do, they will be victorious – and so will you.

“My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken! “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word” Isaiah 66:2 (NLT).

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

 

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We not Me is what Jesus prayed for all those who would trust him for salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, for those who would believe in him, follow him, and be identified with him, for all who claim to be Christian, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” John 17:9-11, 20-23 (ESV)

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we see for the first time what the “we” the “one” Jesus prayed for looks like, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to (the) fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had” Acts 2:41-44 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

A Christian who claims the “me” is enough ignores what Jesus prayed for all those who follow him. Someone who does not belong to local expression of the body of Christ, a local church and does not participate in its life practices the opposite of what Christians did from the very beginning. A believer who does not love the church does not love what Christ loves, “… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25 (ESV). God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” Ephesians 3:10-11 (NIV). And Jesus made it plain that in living out the “we” we become properly identified as his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:35 (NIV).

Being a ‘spiritual house” and a “holy priesthood” is a “we” concept “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NKJV). A belief in Christ’s return and a coming judgment should cause us to an increasing embrace of the “we”, a greater connection to Christ’s fellowship, a growing desire to worship, pray, serve, and torbe together, “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). Did you notice all of the “we”, “us”, and ”one another” in that last scripture? So what is your habit when comes to the “we” of being a Christian? Are you, a “living stone”, cemented together with other “living stones” in the community where God has placed you? Does your commitment to Christ and his fellowship encourage others? Does your involvement with Christ’s church make it stronger? O how I hope it does.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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