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Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” …  going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-2 & 11 (ESV, italics mine)

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Deuteronomy 5:7-10 (NASB)

We are all worshippers; it is what God created us to be. This means we all worship someone or something. It is not a matter of if, but of who or what you worship. Maybe you’re already strongly objecting, “Not me, I’m not even religious!”

Worshippers bow down, prostrate themselves, pay homage to someone or something. They honor, respect, and submit to a reality greater than themselves. Their hearts embrace, ‘kiss’ (literally in ancient times), and acknowledge a superior power. You don’t have to be religious to that, you can even worship yourself, but that would be a serious delusion.

The Eastern Wise Men who sought to worship the infant Jesus were not atheists, few people in the ancient world were, most likely they were polytheists (believing in many gods). What we know for sure is that they were intelligent enough to know that it makes no sense to worship just anything. They understood enough to know that whatever they worshipped had to be greater than the stars and universe they were observing. They followed the evidence the universe and all of nature presents, namely, that before and behind all we can see and observe must be something or someone much greater, much older, and much more powerful. They also understood that we don’t get to choose who or what that is because he/it already was, and all of the universe, including you and me, is subject to him/it. And, these wise men knew that the universe testifies to more than a lifeless beginning, it does not declare an it but a HIM, because it drips with wisdom, with design, with creativity, with imagination, and, especially for us to see here on earth, with life. The most natural response to these truths and realities is to worship at the feet of the one who made all of that.

Modern man likes to think of him/herself as more advanced but in truth, we are not far removed from the those who worshipped and still worship rocks, fetishes, ancestors, handmade idols, nature, or gods who resemble narcissistic flawed human beings more than the divine, all of them part of this physical world and mere human imagination. We moderns have built different altars but of the same kind and with the same limitations, altars of scientific knowledge, academia (please note I am not against either), personal spiritual truth, or general godlessness that allows to us worship whatever we want. None of these can transcend this creation but are merely part of it.

When those wise men worshipped Jesus, they worshipped him “who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8), the one true beginning from whose heart, mind, and power everything we see and perceive with our senses has originated, who will judge the living and the dead, and who alone is worthy to be worshipped, “whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne (of eternity), who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created’” Revelation 4:9-11 (ESV).

Christmas is and always has been a call to forsake idolatry, personal spiritual preferences, and ideas and instead worship Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, God with us, God Almighty, God alone.

Merry Christmas. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas and the Revelation and the Knowledge of God

The revelation of God, the knowledge of God comes to us in four ways: The Cosmos, Scripture, Experience, and Jesus Christ:

  • Creation, the cosmos, the physical world

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him,” the wise men asked Matthew 2:2 (NLT2, italics mine). The entire cosmos, from what is seen through the most advanced telescope to what is revealed under the most powerful microscope or super-collider, reveals God, “… ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” Romans 1:20 (NLT2). Every sunset picture you snapped, every night sky you looked up into, every facet of the natural sciences is an invitation to discover God, to search for this amazing Creator and life-giver until you find him.

  • Scripture, the Bible, is God’s written revelation.

King Herod called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, ‘Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?’
‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they said, ‘for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Matthew 2:4-6 (NLT2, italics mine). Scripture, the Bible, gives an understanding of God, his nature, his ways, and his plans we cannot get from observing our physical world alone. You can’t learn God’s name from reading DNA, nor can you learn from astronomy God’s workings in human history. Among many things, apart from scripture we wouldn’t know the depth of our depravity and sinfulness or its consequences, we wouldn’t know our true identity of being image-bearers of God himself, and we wouldn’t know of God’s great love for us and his provision to save us from our sins.

  • Faith Experience

“We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”…
“When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”
Matthew 2:2&10-11 (NLT2). There is a knowledge of God that only comes through faith, through trusting what he says, following his directions, doing what he tells us to do and be (as opposed to what not to do and be). The Eastern wise men didn’t travel for hundreds of miles to merely have someone tell them about Jesus, they wanted to see him, worship him, and honor him with their gifts. They experienced Jesus by putting together what the night sky declared, what scripture confirmed, and then responding to that revelation and knowledge through faith. They experienced the reality of the living God and Jesus Christ by believing what they saw and heard enough to saddle up their camels and beginning a whole new life of faith.

  • Jesus Christ

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows” Matthew 1:18 (NASB). Jesus Christ is more than a mere man, more than a prophet, more than the leader of one of the world’s great religions, he is God incarnate, God in human flesh, Immanuel – “God with us” (Matthew 1:23); it is what Christmas is all about. There is no greater and more personal revelation of God than Jesus, that is why you can’t claim to follow God and bypass Jesus Christ, they are inseparable, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” Colossians 2:9 (NLT2). No king has ever been announced and predicted like Jesus, that is because there is and never will be a king like him, he is Jesus Christ is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God … On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” Revelation 19:16 (NIV); “… at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW … and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:10-11 (NASB).

How have you responded to God’s revelation of himself? Be a wise man, a wise woman today!

Merry Christmas! Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: Power, O God, belongs to you; unfailing love, O Lord, is yours. Surely you repay all people according to what they have done. Psalm 62:11-12 (NLT2)

 With a big, audible click the power went off. PG&E (our power company) pulled the plug and no one knows for how long. Safety blackout, it is fallout from the huge and devasting fires that have ravaged our state (California) the past couple of years, and it is a first for us.

Susie and I live in a house where, except for the woodstove and water, everything depends on electricity, the lights, water heater, cookstove, fridges, freezer, other appliances, computers, and modems, … So, with the power out we are having to improvise, make do in other ways. We are now depending on our little 1,600 (2,000 peak) watt camping generator. As I type this pastor’s note, it is purring away outside feeding a power cord connected to an outlet strip I borrowed from the garage. The outlet strip feeds other power cords we keep switching around between lights, coffee maker, chargers, and refrigerators and freezer because 1,600 watts don’t power all that much. The water heater, dishwasher, washing machine, cookstove, and oven will lay dormant until the power is restored.

With a limited power supply comes a different way of doing things, that’s for sure. If we run out of gasoline then we will be down to no power at all, the food in the freezer and fridges will spoil, computers and phones won’t get recharged, the battery lanterns will grow dim and dark. Hopefully, the blackout will be over before any of that happens.

God is the ultimate source of power, whatever power there is in the universe has its origin in him. Think about that for a minute, let it sink in. Every little watt of electricity you and I have used traces back to God himself. Think about the consequences of being disconnected from God, how much it complicates life, increases how much time and effort we have to spend on even basic tasks. Consider, how much in your life and our world spoils because of not being connected to the one true and living and almighty God.

I have already thought about getting another generator I can run in tandem to power the house in future power outages. I have, even before this blackout, already begun to save up to go solar. Foolishly, we bring the same mentality to God. Foolish, because there is no substitute for God, living disconnected from him guarantees a more complicated, burdensome, cord-dragging, life with way too much spoilage. Foolish, because being disconnected from God is not like PG&E pulling the plug but is entirely self-inflicted. Ask yourself, “In what ways and what areas of my life am I living disconnected from God?”

Finally, what do you do when you find yourself disconnected from God? You reconnect, that is what you do. How?

  • Be honest and admit it that it is entirely your own fault.
  • Be willing to abandon your disconnected-from-God lifestyle.
  • Take up God’s offer to reconnect you through his Son Jesus Christ, who is the reconciler, the reconnector (Romans 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:20), and ask him to do so.
  • Start, or start over, living a life that stays as close to Christ every single day.
  • Watch your life begin to light up.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Imagine you gave me a brand new, four-wheel drive, Toyota Tundra truck (feel free to actually do that), and the first thing I did was to punch a couple of holes in the fuel tank, and for good measure do the same to the radiator. What would you think about me? And, if I told, “It’s much better that way,” after you asked me what in the hesch I was doing, then what would you think? I know what I would think of you if the roles were reversed. I might even take you in right there and then to have your head examined!

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV), was God’s word to the people in Jeremiah’s day.

How many water faucets are in your house? We have eight inside and seven outside. There are people all over the world who would love to have just one running water spigot putting out clean drinking water. What would you think Susie would tell me if I told her we will abandon using all those faucets and from now on will go down the hill on the backside of our property to get all of our water from the muddy waterhole down there? What are the chances of her agreeing with me that this was a vastly better way of getting water? “But Babe, we would be independent of the water company! No more monthly water bills! We’ll rely just rely on Mother Nature (As everyone knows, she is really dependable in Central California when it comes to water)!

This is the problem of godlessness, deciding that you don’t need God, that you can be free of God and live. As long as we reject God and Christ, abandon God for philosophies, theologies, and ideologies of our own we leak, are condemned to our own foolishness, and quickly run out of life. It is amazing we can spot stupidity and absurdity so easily except when it comes to God, Christ, and spiritual reality, there we give ourselves a pass, are even proud of what is obviously ridiculous.

So, how long are you going to drive with holes in the tank and radiator, constantly having to stop and refill, often finding yourself stranded, but stubbornly refusing to fix the obvious?

How long will you insist on hauling and living on muddy water when living water could be flowing in your life? Jesus declared for anyone to hear, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” John 7:37-39 (NIV).

Today is a great day to fix the two core sins, evils, problems of your life, but you will need Jesus Christ for that.

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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