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“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NIV).

It was not what he was hoping to hear, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He wanted the fix-it grace, the grace that makes it go away, the grace that makes weakness, pain, and suffering disappear.

“Why others and not me?” The healing, delivering, restoring power of Christ had worked through Paul countless times, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” Acts 19:11-12 (NIV).

If you had to choose between deliverance from pain and strength to cope with pain, which would you prefer? If you have physical limitations or handicaps would want restoration or grace to bear it? If as a parent (since it is Mothers’ Day) are both at the end of your wit and your rope what would you ask for, sufficient grace or fix-it grace? Dumb questions.

Paul did ask for fix-it grace, because there is nothing wrong with asking for healing, deliverance, restoration, and permanent change. Our Heavenly Father has given us the green light to ask away (Matthew 7:7-11, James 1:2-6). Paul didn’t just ask once, but twice, and again. Then he got a clear word, a definite answer from God, “Your thorn in the flesh will stay, your weakness will not be taken away, your pain, struggle, and frustration will not just dissipate, but you will receive sufficient grace, for today, and tomorrow, and every day after that.”

It can knock you for loop, when God grants you sufficient grace when you asked for fix-it grace, when God hears your request but responds to it differently. We see little purpose in pain, suffering, sickness, limitations, handicaps, frustrations, trials that last, and … It is easy to get confused when the God of love for whom nothing is impossible doesn’t fix it and instead hands us the cup filed with sufficient grace. It is tough drinking water while others are sipping champagne.

Many criticized God and Christ and walked away at this intersection of receiving sufficient grace while asking for fix-it grace. But Paul didn’t, after hearing, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” he adjusted himself to Christ’s answer, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV). We’d much prefer for God to adjust himself and acquiesce to our requests than the other way around.

Sufficient grace is never cheap grace; it is not lesser than fix-it grace. When God gives us the cup of sufficient grace it is because that is exactly what we need. Paul recognized that this sufficient grace kept him humble, it kept him much closer to Christ, it made him depend on power far greater than his own, and realized that Christ shines through women and men who embrace and live out of his sufficient grace.

To God be all glory. Love you, 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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Fill in the blanks (find possible answers at the bottom):

  • When you get yourself a puppy you will have to ________________________________________________________
  • When you get drunk you will ________________________________________________________
  • After you buy a car you will ________________________________________________________
  • If you leave the windows down on that car and it rains overnight, you will ________________________________________________________
  • If you grab a strange man or woman’s butt thinking it is your wife/husband you will _______________________________________________________

Now you don’t have to get a puppy, get drunk, buy a car, marry, or grab things, but if you do inevitable things will happen. This is not only true about things we can choose it is also true about things we don’t chose.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life were as benign as inadvertent grabs or windows not rolled up? Wouldn’t life be awesome if it were as cute as puppy? Yes, it would be, but it isn’t. As a son of an alcoholic I can’t tell you how quickly funny went out of being drunk. Having clocked my fair share of miles on the road there is nothing funny about losing your cool, road rage, endangering others.

Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray, And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” Matthew 6:13 (NASB)? Because we will encounter evil, we will be enticed to choose evil, we will be both the object and the source of evil. We will encounter evil that poses as cute and funny. We will be tempted to buy things we shouldn’t, to anger that excuses itself, to words that are bitter, wrong, and wound. Evil and the temptation to do and be evil is inevitable, inescapable in the world we live in. It is never just someone else’s problem it always is also our own.

Evil always tries to start a chain reaction, even as it inflicts it tempts, it suggests that the best way to get back at evil is with evil, to answer anger with anger, hate with hate, wounds with wounds, bitter with bitter, always in kind. But the will of God is absolutely clear whenever and however evil touches us, be it small superficial scratches or having been keyed from head to tail and down to the metal, to the bone, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” Romans 12:17 (NASB); “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NASB),Avoid every kind of evil” 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (NIV).

If we need to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” then it is obvious that we need God’s help for evil to be defeated, for us to respond correctly to it, and to not be a contributor to and perpetuator of it.

Now that you have made it the end of this pastor’s note take a minute and reflect, take responsibility for yourself, and reach out and take God’s hand to help you deal with, cope with, evil in and around you, and pray, “Heavenly Father, God, please forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who have sinned against me.  And don’t let me yield to temptation, but deliver me from evil” Matthew 6:12-13

To God Be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. This weekend go and worship at a nearby church with others who seek to live out the above.

Puppy: Clean up messes, find things chewed up, be bitten, have that tongue put slobber on you in laces that ought not to be slobbered.

Drunk: lose control, say stupid things, do stupid things, be stupid, hurt someone sooner than later.

Car: See lots of other cars like it on the road, buy gas, get a scratch on it, run into numerous idiots who should never be allowed on the road, be one of those idiots.

Windows down: Pronounce yourself an idiot, drive sitting on several towels and still get your posterior wet (so bring an extra pair of pants), drill drain-holes because obviously you can’t trust yourself (maybe not).

Butt grab: (could also the sneak up from behind kiss): For answers ask my wife she has experience with this, get laughed at for a very looong time – basically for the rest of your life, get slapped, turn very red.

 

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Four Dollars of Hope

(If you have access to a Bible read John 5:1-15 and then proceed to the rest of this p-note)

My $4.00’s worth of hope of winning the $1,500,000,000.00 evaporated the moment I read that the only winning ticket in California was sold in Chico. No 1.5 billion of high living, generous giving, and doing good for me. My $4.00’s worth of hope ended up in someone else’s pocket. Dang!

I probably shouldn’t have even bought those tickets being a preacher, after all gambling is gambling, isn’t it? And had I had the winning ticket could I have given glory to God for this gambling windfall? How much criticism would winning the thing have garnered me? And would I have cared if I did? Probably not.

It was no wonder that scores of crippled, lame, blind, and paralyzed people were hanging around the pool of Bethesda. Every now and then there was a mysterious stirring of the water and whoever got in first – Bam! Healed! Didn’t even need a $4.00 ticket. But that was actually worse because you couldn’t leave, getting something to eat, going to the restroom became the gamble, it decreased your odds to no chance. It was a constant race, incessant pushing and shoving for a spot right by the water. And if you had to give up your spot, how long before you made it back to the front? How much kindness and civility do you think would we have found among all of that desperation, among these cramped hands clutching the tiniest sliver of hope for a normal, healthy, better life?

Was it worth it? This brutal wait, this hope that would come at someone else’s expense, that could only come to pass if it is “me and not you?” The answer of course depends on who you interview. I am willing to bet those healed, those able to escape the shackles and miseries of their disabilities would give it both thumbs up, “Worth it? Are you kidding me!” On the flipside, the man crippled for 38 years, who had camped out by that pool for who knows how long had a different answer. He had come up short so many times his response to the question, “Do you want to get well?” was no longer, “Yes!” What kind of dumb question is this?” All that came across his tired lips was resignation, “Someone always beats me to it,” and more painful still, “No one helps me, no one cares about me.” He sat hopeless by the oasis of hope.

And then Jesus comes by. He does heal him, hallelujah! But before he does he notices him, he talks to him, he listens to him, he cares about him, he has hope for him. These are all things I can do, even if I never win that big jackpot, my $4.00 and me are enough for me to engage, to care, to be generous, to bring hope. But I always have more than myself and my $4.00, I do know how to introduce people to the same Jesus who changed the life of that hopeless man by the pool of Bethesda. What do you think, maybe it is even greater if someone wins it all with my $4.00 tickets?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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The Us Postal Service, UPS, Fed-Ex, DHL, are all busy delivering packages. Several of them were dropped off at our doorstep this week. I’ve never worked for any of those outfits but it has to be crazy around Christmas time.

Just today the UPS man delivered a new artificial Christmas tree, complete with lights. Our old one was dropping needles like a dried out real Christmas tree, slowly morphing into a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. This of course means it is time to bring up the decorations from under the house and get everything looking like Christmas.

In one sense it is good that Christmas only lasts for a short (albeit ever expanding) season, we’d be worn out, even fatter, and broke if it were. But wouldn’t it be great if some of the things of Christmas were to persist all year long, like generosity, the effort to bless people and make others happy, an emphasis of recognizing and worshipping God?

Back to the delivery guys this pastor’s note started with. All of us actually do deliver something most every day and throughout the year. Sometimes our deliveries bless, bring joy, help, and encourage. Sometimes our deliveries resemble more a Waste Management truck backing up and dumping its load at the local landfill. I am talking about what our lips deliver on a daily basis. If you have a few minutes get out a Bible and read the Christmas story in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, as you read look for what comes out of the mouths of the people who really get Christmas, look for “Christmas Lips” and ask yourself if you have yours on? Hear the words of praise and worship, of kindness and blessing, of hope and peace, of awe and surrender, of truth and compassion, of wonder and amazement, both spoken and implied, from both the tongues of men and angels. So do you have them on, your “Christmas lips?”

Imagine what difference it would make if long after all the Christmas decorations are put back under the house we still had our “Christmas lips” on? What if kind, peaceful, and encouraging words would scent the air throughout the year? What if truth, hope, and mercy would be packages we regularly, continually, and faithfully deliver? What if the fruit of our lips were never foul but sweet, forgiving, and beneficial? What if the words from our mouths were more God-centered, more spiritually aware, more filled with worship and praise? How would it impact our relationships, our homes, our places of work, our public discourse if we decided to not take down and pack up our “Christmas lips?” What would it be like if others anticipated with joy things delivered with our mouths?

Let me end with a “Christmas Lips” prayer, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” Psalm 19:14 (NASB).

Merry Christmas. Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Take a look at your hands and ask yourself, “How good am I of letting go.” Now pick up two things, one with your left hand and one with your right. Keep holding those two items as you go to the kitchen to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee. (Email me with the outcome of this exercise, dergermanshepherd@gmail.com).

We hold onto things with more than just our hands, our minds and hearts know to grasp and not let go every bit as our hands, maybe even better. It doesn’t really matter what we use to hold on to something, as long as we hold on to one thing it limits us, or completely prevents us, from grasping or doing something else.

My brother, who was a pain specialist, once told me that after a while our nerves will hold onto pain even if the source of the pain is removed. Have you ever had to pry your fingers off something you had hold onto for a long time? Letting go can be very hard, even painful, especially if we have held onto something for a very long time, if what we have held onto was very heavy, if what we have held onto is very important to us. I don’t want to hold onto things that will damage me, that will deform me, that will cause pain long after something is past, that will prevent me from laying hold of better things.

My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:10-14 (HCSB).

Real maturity and Christlikeness are impossible without knowing what to let go and what to hold onto. I hear the Apostle Paul saying, “I let go of everything that would prevent me grasping everything God, through Christ, has for me. So I have to learn to be good at letting go.”

How good are you at letting go? What do need to let go? What “worries, wounds, wrongs, weaknesses, and wishes” (Eric Rees) do you need to let go?

Before you finish this p-note can I encourage you to get a Bible, find Philippians and read both chapter 2 and 3 (or maybe all of it), then sit down, look at your hands again, and then have a conversation with God about what he would have let go of.

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

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How Thanksgiving Describes Us

Jesus, in a parable, tells of two men who went to the temple to pray. God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12 NIV), was the prayer of one of them, a Pharisee. Now in my book, and in God’s book, not being a robber, evildoer, or an adulterer is a good thing, and having some spiritual habits like fasting and giving 10% of your income is nothing to sneeze at either. But he clearly didn’t like tax collectors who in Jesus’ day were considered as having no spiritual, moral, or political fiber. He thought the wrong he didn’t do and the good he did was what described him, but it was his comparison to the tax collector praying next to him that revealed the truth about him. That was no real giving of thanks, that was claiming righteousness by comparing himself to someone else. That was a self-declaration of being good at the cost of declaring someone bad. That was a prayer that fell flat, regardless of having prayed in the Temple (church). It didn’t lift off the ground anymore than the smoke of Cain’s sacrifice. He should have stopped while he was ahead, but didn’t just like we usually don’t, and even if he had guarded his mouth he still would have thunk it in his heart, “Thank you God I am not like those weirdoes, these whackos, that Muslim, them homosexuals, this gangbanger, or …”

For ten very sick men this was a great day. They had asked Jesus to heal them of their leprosy (think crippling, infectious decease that slowly kills you while rendering you a social outcast). Christ heard their cries for mercy and told them to go to show themselves to the priests (think local health officials). While they were on their way the leprosy vanished from their bodies, they were healed, but One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15-16 NIV). The other nine never looked back. However, all ten of them were described by their thankfulness to God or lack thereof. I imagine all ten were crazy glad, all ten happy out of their minds, all ten could not wipe the smiles of their faces, but only one returned to give honor, to shout praise, and offer thanks to whom it was due, to God, to Christ.

How much in our lives is due to no merit or effort of our own? How much good has happened to us solely because of the mercy and grace of God? Did that Pharisee have anything to with the fact that he was born into a God-fearing family? Did he learn that fasting and tithing habit on his own or did someone teach him? Were all the “lucky” breaks in his life just random coincidences? How did those nine lepers, who should have known better, completely forget to give thanks to God on the greatest day of their lives? How did God, in the midst of undeserved and incredible blessing, become an afterthought or a no-thought, when he should have been the main thought?

That sinful, humble tax-gatherer so disliked by the Pharisee had his prayer answered, he went away “justified,” forgiven Luke 18:13-14). That Samaritan who turned back to praise and thank God was told he was “well,” based on his thanksgiving to and worship of God/Christ. What does your thanksgiving say about you?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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