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“On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote)

Coming back from a week of camping we drove past the heliport on the Lake Don Pedro dam. The Medi-Flight chopper, ambulance, and fire truck were all there. I found out later they were airlifting out a young person in dire condition. I am sure that for her family the day turned out nothing like they thought it would.

I made three visits (pastoral calls) on Tuesday. The first, to see a man who lost his wife of many years. The second, to see a lady who is dying and her husband who is taking care of her. The third, to see a man who’d just come back from a stint in the hospital. Things have not turned out like they hoped they would. All their plans and hopes have been interrupted, changed, permanently, and uninvited.

We know life is fragile, that it can turn on a dime, be completely altered in a split second, tear our hearts out, pay no attention to our plans, demolish our dreams, assign us paths we do not want to travel, and dish us up with more sorrow grief than we can bear. We long for permanence, for unchanging ground, but our reality is we live on the ever-shifting sand of a beach constantly moving in the daily ebb and flow, subject to sunshine and rain, gentle breezes and hurricane winds.

Susie and I pay for health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, life insurance (Which is really death insurance since it doesn’t kick in unless you die. But I suppose calling it that is not good for marketing), and maybe soon long-term care insurance. The hope is that we will not have to file claims, but the reality is that except for the life insurance we have had to use them all and were glad and grateful that we were insured because otherwise, things would have been even worse, and we would be flat broke. But none of these insurance policies have protected us from tragedy, from chaos, having to change our plans, from having to adapt and cope.

Wise women and men work hard at finding and embracing the truths, laws, principles, and ways that create the most stability, promote peace, and bring blessing. They also live without any illusions of being exempt from mortality and the unpredictability of life. And, they embrace God, who is permanent – eternal, unchanging – immutable, and perfect – holy. He alone can make eternal guarantees and sure promises. Only he can change the impermanent and mortal into the everlasting. No one else can save us from our human dilemmas, satisfy our thirst for permanence, and anchor our souls now and forever. Hear and respond to the words of Jesus, the Son of God, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30):

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (NLT2)

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth… And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT2)

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. John 11:25-26 (NLT2)           

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Who should we be merciful to? Before telling his disciples to be merciful he gave them and us a list (Luke 6:27-35) that includes our enemies, those who hate, curse, mistreat, abuse and hurt us, those who take from us, ask of us and want to borrow from us. If you ask me, those are the people who make me less merciful, who make me think twice about being compassionate, or not think of it at all. Depending on what they have done to me, inflicted on me, or how they have taken advantage of me, the last thing I want to be is merciful. Chances are, that if you can read this, you have been hurt, burnt, and used. Being told to be merciful to those who did that to us feels like being told to be a sucker, an enabler, to be someone who doesn’t learn from experience. And yet, against all our possible objections, apprehensions, fears and feelings Jesus commands us to be merciful like God the Father. How do we do that?

1. Ruminate on the Father’s mercy. Contemplate how vast, how multifaceted, how indiscriminate, how continual, constant and eternal God’s mercies are. Consider the ultimate expression of God the Father’s mercy in and through his Son Jesus Christ (for more detail read part 1 to this pastor’s note). Ruminating on, contemplating God’s mercy is like looking at an inspiring picture that makes you go, “Wow,” and wish you were there. Pictures like that are good to have on the walls of our heart and mind.

2. Remember when you needed mercy. Everyone has needed mercy sometime during their lifetime, and most likely many many times. Remember a time when you had to ask for help, for assistance, for forgiveness, for another chance, or maybe you were merely hoping that someone would see and respond to your need. We are much humbler when we need mercy and we will be much more empathetic when we remember the times we were in those shoes. The Apostle Paul, for whom mercy wasn’t always a strength, remembered and wrote, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all (how I needed mercy). But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT2, parenthesis mine).

3. Recall when you received mercy. It is one thing to ask, hope, and wish for mercy but it’s quite another to actually receive it, Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around” Proverbs 13:12 (MSG). Recall the joy, the relief, the gratitude you felt when you were on the receiving end of mercy.

4. Recognize and seize opportunities you have to be merciful. God doesn’t tell us to merciful and then not give us opportunities to be merciful. Before Jesus said “be merciful,” he already had told his disciples, Do to others as you would have them do to you,” or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it, Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” Luke 6:31 NIV &MSG. Think about how many “little” opportunities to be merciful daily come your way. I suspect, the better we become at seizing the small mercy moments the better we will be at the larger and more challenging ones.

Let’s go practice.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Some things are easier to be than others. It is easier to be ignorant than to be informed, to be thoughtless than to be thoughtful, to be foolish than to be wise, to be undisciplined than to be disciplined, to be nasty than to be kind, to be stingy than to be generous, to be unforgiving than to be forgiving, to be critical than to be caring, to be watching than to be involved, to be cynical than to be doing good, to be merciless than to be merciful. But Christ never told his followers to settle for what comes easier but he was persistent in commanding and encouraging them to pursue that which better, to reach for the best, to emulate God the Father, to model their lives after himself.

It is easier to practice a little mercy here and there, to be generous every now and then, to be kind sometimes … than it is to be merciful … in our very being, in our core, as part of our character, like the Father.

So, what do we know about the mercy of the Father, and how can we become and be merciful like him?

God’s mercy is vast, like an immense deep sea. Scripture speaks of his mercies being great, extending over all his works (Psalm 119:156, 145:9), and King David chose to be judged by God rather than men because he was certain of God’s vast mercy (2 Samuel 24:14).

God’s mercy is also multifaceted. Jeremiah the prophet found comfort and hope in the midst of carnage and destruction because he remembered that The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23,ESV), and the Apostle Paul concurred when he encouraged the Corinthians that to bless God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3, ESV).

God’s mercy is indiscriminate, Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35-36 ESV).

God’s mercy is continual, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23,ESV). Every sunrise and every rainstorm (Matthew 5:45) remind us that God’s mercy is both inexhaustible and that it gets up every morning.

God’s mercy finds its ultimate expression in Jesus Christ, All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay (1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT2).

And just like that, I have run out of space for this pastor’s note, I guess you will have to wait till next week for some thoughts on, “How can we merciful like the Father?” But, I suspect that even before you get that p-note will have occasions and opportunities to be merciful. So, how can what you just learned about God’s mercy help you with that?

To God be all glory. Love you, pastor Hans

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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

In order to be numbered among the merciful, you have to be merciful. But why should we want to be merciful in the first place? First of all, because God the Father and Jesus Christ are merciful, but also because we reap what we sow, and because a merciless world is a terrible world to live in and a merciless life is a terrible life to live.

My earliest memory of being merciless is in Kindergarten on a warm early summer morning that had us wearing shorts. We, the other bullies and I, had mentally and socially challenged Heinzi cornered in the corner of the blind spot of the play yard. On one side of the corner was the wall of the building, the other side was a fence, and the entire corner was overgrown with tall sting nettles. Sting nettles are nasty plants with leaves that have poisonous barbs at the edges of their leaves that burn like bee stings and leave nasty welts. “I’m burning! I burning!” Heinzi cried as he tried to escape but was sent back tumbling into the nettles again and again. He finally just gave up and sat there weeping, unable to comprehend why? We wandered off, laughing, but inside I knew it was wrong, I felt wicked without knowing the word. I should’ve gone back to help Heinzi, but I didn’t, I lacked the courage. And, I wish it was my only memory of being merciless, but sadly and shamefully it isn’t.

Heinzi never told on us, which is surprising because Heinzi told everything. Besides what was going on in our own consciences we suffered no consequences. It bothered me so much I left the bully club of five-year-olds and the picture of the incident still hangs on the main wall of my memory. Somehow, Heinzi and I became friends, which says more about him than it says about me. Somehow, this little boy whom we deemed inferior and weak met my mercilessness with mercy, with forgiveness, and a willingness to try again and be friends. It wasn’t until many years later that I figured out that whether he knew it or not he was being like “Our Father,” who told us through Christ, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” Luke 6:35-36 (ESV). Somehow, when I think if this evil I was part of in the corner of the Kindergarten yard I think of Christ, who in dying agony, unspeakable injustice and cruelty, and with one of his last breaths looked down at mocking, jeering, merciless crowd and with compassion and mercy said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” Luke 23:34 (NIV).

2019 needs more mercy not less, which means it needs more of us to be “merciful,” to act merciful like God the Father and Christ, like Heinzi weeping in the sting nettles.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT2)

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (NLT2)

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)

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT2)

Would you let a doctor in whom you had no faith in and did not trust operate on you? You can go ahead but I won’t, no way.  S/he can snip away on you but I won’t let that scalpel touch me. Misplaced faith never works out well and can be flat out dangerous. Who and what you put your faith in, believe in, trust in makes a big difference in all areas of life, but, because of the eternal ramifications, none more so than in the spiritual life.

Some believe the earth is flat, some believe it to be center of the universe, some believe the holocaust never happened, some believe there is no climate change, and some believe there is no God in whom and through who and for whom all things exist (Revelation 4:11, Hebrews 2:10). But just because some or you and me believe something does not make it so.

Christians are believers in Jesus Christ, God incarnate (in the flesh). We trust him more than anyone else in all matters of this life and eternal life. Thus faith is indispensable for today and for eternity; it will forever be a central part of living in a relationship with God/Christ.  It is neither a misplaced nor a completely blind faith. It is not misplaced because God and Christ really do exist and it is not totally blind because all of the universe, our conscience, Jesus Christ and Spirit of God all testify of his existence, greatness, power, and necessity.

It is impossible to write anything exhaustive about faith in one short pastor’s note, but I want to highlight three that are at the core of Christian faith:

  1. Relationship

We believe it is possible to live in a relationship with God through faith in his Son Jesus Christ. Sinners can be forgiven and be reconciled to God through the person, power, and cross of Christ. God is not an abstract, not a mere religious construct, but real and loving, so much so Holy God made a way for unholy people like you and me to be in an eternal relationship with him.

  1. Revelation

We believe we can trust the promises, principles, laws, and words of God revealed through the Spirit of God and the ultimate revelation of God – Jesus Christ. We believe in, trust in, and follow what he says and shows us.

  1. Right living

We believe in pleasing God through our actions. We have faith in the goodness of God and that in his goodness he means to transform us to live and act more like Jesus, to love ever more selflessly. We believe with James (James 2:17, 26, and entire letter) that real faith shows up in real life, making a difference in how we respond to trials, how we treat people, what comes out of our mouths, how we plan and do business, how we pray, and how we live in community with each other (and much more).

Not going to the doctor when you need one is a bad idea. Putting your trust in an incompetent doctor is not wise. Dismissing all doctors because some are lousy is foolish. Likewise, denying your need for God is a bad idea. Declaring all religion and spirituality equal is not wise. Dismissing God because of religious abuses is foolish (although at times understandable). The eternal God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has never ceased to be holy, awesome, great, just, faithful, good, and loving. He is worthy of our complete faith in him, we can trust him completely, none who follow him will be led astray, and all who believe in him will be glad.

Put your faith in Jesus. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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I have double confession to make: 1. I am not good at giving gifts. I love to help, be generous, but gift-giving is not my spiritual gift. 2. I am not very good at receiving gifts either, a weakness for sure. I am way too German/Schwaebisch, which means I am terrible with “Kitsch,” useless, knick-knack, cheap stuff. When it comes to gifts the running joke and question in my family is whether I am going to take things back and exchange them. I am slowly improving, thanks to intensive tutoring by Susie (my wife, who is super good at the gift and receiving of gifts thing), but progress has been very slow.

Christmas is about giving and receiving, specifically God giving and us receiving. Above anything else, this Christmas would you think about, contemplate God giving us the ultimate gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) and your response to this gift of Jesus Christ.

However, before reflecting on God’s “indescribable gift,” Jesus Christ, think about everything else you have received from God. Let’s start from the very beginning. Your life, your first heartbeat, your first breath, all the way to this present moment is a gift from God. Your ability to laugh, cry, feel, do good, think, and chose, are all things God gave to you and me. The characteristics that make you you and me me, whether it is our tenacity, courage, boldness, tenderness, kindness, intelligence, handiness, …, are from God as well. The “lucky breaks,” the opportunities, the things you survived, can also be traced back to the giving heart of God. The fact is you and I have received from God all our lives, from the very beginning until now. It makes no difference whether you acknowledge this fact or sneer at it, it still stands as the truth; the only difference is that acknowledging it will make you grateful and not doing so will render you ungrateful, acknowledging it will cause you to have an increasing sense of responsibility towards God, disavowing it will cause you to be blind in your responsibility towards God. It is not a matter of whether you have received from God all your life but whether your life expresses your gratitude towards God.

Esau (Genesis 25-27, 25:34, 27:38) was born before his twin brother Jacob, which, in his ancient culture, meant he also got the significant firstborn rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately, he could have cared less about these gifts from God (admittedly, it is often hard to think of responsibilities as gifts), so in a careless moment he literally sold his birthright for a pot of stew, for mere pocket change. And he regretted it bitterly when it was too late. How grateful and careful are you for and with all God has given you up to this point in your life?

Esau is not in lonely company when it comes to being ungrateful for what God gave him, being careless with what God entrusted to him, shirking the responsibilities God handed to him. He is not the only sinner, the only one who has blown it, the only one who exchanged God’s gifts for something far less. No, you and are sitting right next to him in this historical boat (Romans 3:23). Which brings us back to Jesus, back to Christmas, back to God’s greatest gift, the gift that can save sinners, the gift that can help ungrateful screwups like you and me find forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. But like all gifts, it won’t benefit you unless you receive it, in this case him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son, the Savior of the world.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Go” John 1:12 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Let’s get ready for Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

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The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.” Psalm 103:19 (NLT)

How did we end up here, you and I, here in Don Pedro, La Grange, Coulterville, Greeley Hill, in California, in the United States? How did you get here wherever you read this? Born here, moved here, fled here, or immigrated? Had relatives living here, for work, for retirement, to raise a family away from city troubles, because the houses were affordable? Or maybe you are still wondering?

Regardless of the reasons, obviously we did end up here, in this place, this state, and this country. It might have been the result of our own choices or we might have had little or nothing to do with it, and still we are here together. We might not even like each other, although it would be much better if we did. We might have vastly different political views, values, interests, and beliefs, and nevertheless are globbed together here.

If we are not careful we can think that life is merely accidental, or that we are where we are and what we are solely because of our own choices. Thanksgiving is, among other things, a reminder that this not so. The Pilgrims along with many of the founding Fathers of our country believed, and rightly so, in providence, a word largely lost in our present culture, thinking, and discourse. Believing in providence acknowledges the reality of God, his existence, his guidance, his care, his power shaping and sustaining history, and that we play a part in both the receiving and the shaping ends of providence.

Divine providence is a great truth, it helps us to see life and each other differently, it pushes us towards humility, it forces us to live with greater responsibility, and causes us to be thankful and to give God praise. Remember the Thanksgiving story you learned in Kindergarten? It is a story of providence (and maybe explains why some want to purge it from being taught). A brutal, harsh winter, starvation, a kind Native American doing what is right, a bountiful harvest, a feast, and the giving of thanks to God.

Of course you and I can chose to go the opposite direction, to ignore both God and our neighbor, to laugh at the notion of providence, to shirk its responsibilities, to abhor the sacrifices it calls us to make, and instead live mostly for ourselves. It won’t make us better, but poorer. It won’t make us happier, but more cynical and afraid.

So, as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, look around at the people sitting at your table, next door neighbors, those living in your community, and the people near and far who for some reason have been placed in your life. They are the people God has put you with, they are your responsibility, you have the ability to do what is good and right for them and us together, you can help them, bless them, you can engage with them in such a way that their lives are better because of you, and you can be an instrument in the hands of God to such an extent that it will cause us to thank and praise God together.

Now that you have read this far would you please pause for a moment and either silently or out loud say a prayer thanking God for all the good, all of the blessings you have received and enjoyed this past year, and then ask God to use you for the good and benefit of the people among whom he has placed you, to be an instrument of his providence, to be someone for whom others are grateful and give thanks to God.

To God be all glory. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Pastor Hans

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