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Archive for the ‘God’ Category

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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At the moment everything around us is awash in color, predominantly variations of green, but what stands out from this canvas of green are the specks of poppy orange, the stacks of lupine blue and white, the intense purple in tangles of common fetch, and if you peek down the hill behind our barn when the sun is setting the soft blues brodiaeas light up like tiny light bulbs. It is amazing how little color is needed to stand out, how breath-taking tiny dabs of beauty can be.

I wonder what God is trying to teach us through nature’s yearly dress up gala. God does speak through the things he brought into being, he reveals things about himself through what he created, his existence, his power, his greatness, his imagination, and much more are declared from mountain peaks to the depth of the seas, in the deserts and jungles, at the end of a microscope or a telescope. But to me, this spring, it is the littleness and the loudness of the dots of colors that has my attention.

Many springs I simply mowed them down, after all, when you have to mow you have to mow. But this year I left unmowed circles where the flag signals of flowers let me know, “I am here.” If I mow them down before they finish blooming and go to seed they won’t be back next year, and I do want them to come back and in greater numbers.

Flowers are not the only ones who know how to be beautiful. We, formed in the image of God and unlike flowers, can chose to be beautiful anytime and anywhere. Sometimes, no oftentimes, to many times I tell myself that it takes too much effort, that I need gallons of paint to really make a difference, and so I won’t open my little half pint, my small heart, my drab imagination to splatter what little I have.

We know how to beautiful. We could be beautiful every day. We could indiscriminately splatter love. We could unleash the brilliance of kindness. We could be like lupines and bring splendor to someone’s roadside. We know of the beauty of generosity, compassion, help, selflessness, goodness, justice, forgiveness, and so much more, and that we are capable of them, even if it is in just tiny measures. We know how to speak beautiful, encouraging, healing words. We know how to be beautiful. God has made us to be beautiful. And yet, I have to be reminded to by the flowers of the field.

How glad are they? Those who live where God has planted you? How glad are they for the color, the beauty you add to their field, their lives? Do you do so well that even the wicked mow circles around your splashes of color, hoping there will be more of it?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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What the hail!

What the hail! That was some wild weather outburst this past Tuesday, paintball sized hail with the occasional clunker, warnings of funnel clouds with two actually touching down, everything turning icy white in a matter of minutes, a continual roar augmented with flashes of lightning and thunder. You definitely didn’t want to be out there, the thing to do was to run for cover. The oak trees with their fresh green leaves didn’t have that option and had their canopies shredded, leaving a carpet of leave bits, pollen pods, and twig fragments below them.

We are tempted to think of weather, of nature, as being completely arbitrary, but like all things they are subject to the power, will, and purposes of God, of Christ. God is more than merely human attempts to explain the inexplicable, he really is Lord of all, the Sovereign over all creation, the visible and invisible.

Isn’t it amazing how big and powerful we can feel when the there is just a gentle cooling breeze while the sun is shining? It is easy to be the master of your own destiny in fair and favorable weather, when life is good, when things pan out as planned, when there are lots of opportunities, when our health is good, when things are peaceful and prosperous. It takes just one dark cloud packed with power immensely greater than our own to remind us how little we actually control, how small we are, how dependent we are on the goodwill, the mercy, and the compassion of the one whom not only the clouds must obey, but who, by a command from his lips, spoke the entire universe into being.

We are fortunate when an impressive hailstorm is a mere reminder for us to look up and acknowledge God. Sometimes the unleashing of natures might and fury is much more than that, a very act of the judgment of God, the very hand of God working against us. This troubles the modern mind, this higher accountability, this being tied to spiritual, to moral and ethical standards not our own, this having to bow to the one who commands “the wind and the sea” (Mark 4:41). It is easier to settle for a world that is arbitrary, merely controlled by impersonal forces of nature, that leaves us accountable to none but ourselves, that is nothing more than a crapshoot of chance, and has no need to look deeper, to ask about the will of God.

The truth of the word of God, the written revelation of God, the Scriptures, the Bible stands in stark contrast to the modern mindset and all those who have and would deny the existence of God. God used hail to humble Pharaoh (Exodus 9:18-33), he defeated the Amorites with hail (Joshua 10:11), he summoned the wind to catch up with runaway Jonah (Jonah 1:1-17), he directed swarms of locust (Exodus 10:12-19; Joel 1:1-2-), he unleashed natures forces against Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16-33, 11:23-29), he darkened the sky when Jesus died (Matthew 27:45). These and more were not coincidences but serve as clear examples and reminders of both the power and sovereignty of God.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. Psalm 19:1-2 (adapted from NLT)

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today! Psalm 95:6-7 (NLT)

Next time you see dark clouds gather on the horizon, do more than run for cover, be reminded of God, of Christ, and bow, and worship.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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Hope

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)

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3:21-25 (ESV)

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

Am I, are you overflowing with hope? Is hope stirring and rising within us like popcorn filling a pan, lifting the lid, and spilling over? Do innocent bystanders get soaked with hope simply because they are standing too close to us? And not just any kind of hope, or some cheap kind of hope, but eternal hope.

The Corinthian Christians, like us, chased after all kinds of things that made them feel spiritual, superior even. They settled in on the spectacular like miraculous healing, special revelations and intellectual insights, and especially speaking in tongues. Whoever didn’t evidence some special spiritual endowment (gift) like that just wasn’t with it, was lacking, second rate, spiritually immature, and not all that important in the big picture of God’s work. The Apostle Paul reminded them that as crucial as the gifts of the Holy Spirit are, they are neither the measuring stick of spiritual maturity nor of spiritual excellence. They serve a temporary purpose but what lasts for eternity are FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE.

Susie and I just got back from spending a few days playing in the snow with a couple of our children and our one and two year old grandsons. What do I hope for them? What do I pray for them? What do I want to spill from my life into theirs? What do I want them drip all the way home and the rest of their lives? Without question among these is “hope.”

Jeremiah prophesied and wrote in terrible times. His nation, ancient Judah (Israel) was disintegrating politically, economically, morally, and above all spiritually. They were in collective denial, misplaced their hope, and settled for wishful but fatal thinking. And the disaster came. It is in the midst of humiliating defeat, ruined infrastructure, unimaginable bloodshed and atrocities, and life at the end as they knew it, that Jeremiah while writing a lament pens the words, “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope,” and then reminds himself and us that real, lasting hope always begins with and is anchored in God, the “God of hope;” who loves to fill us with his peace and joy, and evermore so when we dare to trust him. The result is “overflowing hope,” not based on our limited strength but on the power of the very Spirit of God.

Let me return you one more time to the prophet Jeremiah, who on the heels of pronouncing a seventy year disaster, delivered God’s words and promises of hope to the ancient Israelites, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV).

So this year, 2017, we the Lake Don Pedro Baptist Church Family will concentrate on HOPE. We are going to search the scriptures, asking God to teach us about HOPE. We are going to ask God to show us what stands in the way of us overflowing with HOPE, to fill us with HOPE and HOPEFULNESS like never before, and we are going to ask God to put us into situations where we hope is needed, where hopers are needed, where Holy Spirit empowered overflowing hope is needed.

To God be all glory. Happy New Year, Pastor Hans

 

 

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See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
Matthew 1:23 (HCSB)

 I tried to console her, but she informed me through her sobbing, “I just need my Mama.” Her older sister at her age was more demanding, “I want Mommy!” In either case Dad wouldn’t do, wasn’t the one needed or wanted.

Lovers know the feeling of, “I want to be with you forever and ever,” and often quickly change to, “I never want to see you face again!”

Some people you can’t wait to be with, while with others we are perfectly fine if they don’t show up. Some people’s presence is like a shot in the arm, an automatic lift, sheer joy, others are real challenges, drags, and some are pure downers. Some folks’ mere presence inspires, cause you to dare, to dream, while some cause you to doubt, to tip-toe, and at times feel like you are in a nightmare. With some you are overjoyed when they arrive, while with others you wonder, “When are they going to leave?”

It makes a difference who you’re with. You’d think people run to be with God, especially when he shows up “in the flesh,” when he takes the time to meet you on your turf. But the exact opposite is true, God it turns out is intimidating, challenging, and frightening t us, even when appearing as a baby. The Apostle Peter’s first encounter with Jesus Christ caused him to exclaim, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Think about it, how sexually promiscuous are you going to be with God right there? Would you throw your usually temper tantrum or would you exercise greater self-control with God next to you? How dishonest would you be in your business dealings with Jesus sitting right there at the table? Would the quality of your work improve working side by side with God? Would you treat your wife and children different in front of God? Would you clean up your mouth, be more patient, less full of it in the presence of God? How would your party plans change if you were certain that God would show up in the flesh? If Jesus were to be physically right beside us would there be a gap be between how he and we talk about and treat the poor, the immigrants, those with different skin colors, homosexuals, and even our enemies? Having God around stifles the sinners sinning. It is bothersome enough to have your conscience prick you, but when God’s right there our conscience wants to rejoice and do flips while our sin ducks and hides, wondering, “When is he going to leave?”

God is holy, glorious, perfect, even when compressed into human flesh that did not change. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God incarnate, God with us, was tempted and tried – “yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). God’s holiness, God’s glory, the light of his presence exposes sin, strips you, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” Hebrews 4:13 (NLT). Jesus always has known what is every person’s mind and heart (John 2:25). Immanuel sees right through us, all our excuses, cover-ups, making jokes about our sinfulness, declaring God’s backwardness and our rightness, and our own wisdom and self-reliance evaporate in his presence. We are forced to choose to either worship him or reject him, to proclaim him or deny him, to genuinely follow him or settle for just being religious.

In spite of our qualms “God with us” is incredible God news. It means God has come looking for us, God deeply cares about us, God has made a way to be “with him,” and he is eternal. “He (Jesus Christ/God) came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” John 1:11-14 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NASB)

Let me list some qualities and you put a name in the blank space following it: Generosity ________, Kindness _________, Genius _________, Mean _______, Love _______, Evil ________, Selfless ________, Bitter _______, Laughter _______, Sacrifice ________.

Let’s do the reverse, I throw out a name and you attach the quality that first comes to your mind as you read each one: Mom ________, Dad ________, Fidel Castro ________, George Washington ________, Mother Theresa ________, Dog the Bounty Hunter ________, Miley Cyrus ________, Adlof Hitler _________, Rosa Parks _______, Jesus Christ ________.

The point of this little exercise is that qualities can and are embodied by people and people embody qualities, although we might not necessarily agree with each other’s assessments and sentiments.

John the Apostle, who knew Jesus Christ personally, when writing his Gospel made sure that anyone who would ever read his Gospel would be absolutely clear about who Jesus Christ is: The very embodiment of God himself, the Incarnation of God, the very essence of self-existing life becoming flesh and dwelling among us. This is the reality of Christmas, the inexplicable humility and compassion of God, the Son of God stepping into space and time, which he created, in order to save sinful humanity, sinners like you and I.

John was keenly aware that the very people Jesus came to save would in their sinfulness declare Jesus merely one among many admirable people who embodied goodness of some kind at an extraordinary high level. He was aware that the opinions and valuations regarding Jesus Christ would be deeply divided. Thus he penned his Gospel so that when we read it we would be left with only one conclusion: The unmuddled and unassailable truth is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God incarnate.

This is incredible good news for sinners like you and me who are both in bondage to sin, continually perpetuate sin, who cannot escape the consequences of their sin, and who have no hope of surviving God’s judgment of their sin. It is great news because it is God showing up at the front door of your and my life in order to save us from and out of that which you will never be able to extricate and save ourselves from. “Behold, I (Jesus Christ) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” Revelation 3:20 (ESV).

Run to open your door to Jesus Christ.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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