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For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 (NIV)

If you are reading this pastor’s note it is safe to assume you awoke this morning. You also learned how to read sometime back, most likely because someone taught you. This means you have lived long enough to acquire the skill of reading and I am certain a few others as well. It also means you have had some opportunities, maybe many, and you will have more opportunities today. You also could have chosen not to read this p-note, but you didn’t (which makes me glad); no, you decided to read it, to give dergremanshepherd (the German Shepherd) a small voice in your life today. You have made lots of decisions like that throughout your life, and many of vastly more significance, and you will make more today.

The story of your and my life is a story of receiving, from its very inception until now, and it will remain so until the very end. It doesn’t matter whether we think we have received the short end of the stick, gotten the shaft, were born into bad circumstances, have suffered from injustice, are trapped in poverty, had few good breaks in life, … The very fact we are breathing today, that we have opportunities to make choices today, even if they seem limited, verifies that every single day we have opened our eyes we have received. This means that someone gave, someone was gracious to us, and none more so than God, than Jesus Christ, For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

The truth is there is no one who comes close to having given us as much as God, as Jesus has; there isn’t anybody from whom we have received more. You would think the whole world would line up each day to say, “Thank you,” to brag about the goodness and graciousness of God. So, have you? And have you accepted from God the gift he thinks you need the most, his son, Jesus Christ? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16 (NIV). You and I need Jesus Christ because we not only need daily grace to survive in the temporal, but we need God’s grace even more for the eternal, in fact we are completely dependent on it.

All this receiving equips us and ought to transform us into givers. Many of you reading this p-note went to work today. One of the great things about work is getting paid (Can I get an “Amen!”), and one of the great things of getting paid is that it enables a receiver to be a giver, In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” Acts 20:35 (NIV). Let’s do that today, turn our receiving into giving, turn our receiving into thanksgiving and praise to God and Christ. Let’s not stop with today, let’s turn it into a lifestyle, like God who has been giving to us all our life.

To God be all glory. Merry Christmas, 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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Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”                                                                                            Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:38-42 (ESV)

Have you ever given thanks to God for not answering your prayer, for ignoring your request, for making you wait?

Jesus didn’t come when they wanted him to, instead he waited, delayed. He ignored their implied request to heal Lazarus, one of his best friends, he let him suffer and die. Nor did Jesus book a redeye flight to be there as soon as possible for Lazarus’ distraught and grieving sisters. It took him four whole days to show up, which meant he missed even the funeral.

When Jesus finally got there Lazarus’ two sisters said aloud what everyone else thought, “If you would have been there our brother would not have died” Luke 1:22&32). Ouch, no gratitude here, only accusation, confusion, and silently screaming “Why?” The Son of God who could have intervened didn’t; the Omnipotent who can, didn’t; what he did for others he didn’t do for his friends. Why in the world would he refuse to do what was obviously needed, use his power to heal, and instead responded with inactivity that said, “No?”

“Open the tomb! You’ve got to be kidding! Martha is right, there will be a stench. In fact, this whole situation stinks. He could have and should have done something, but he didn’t. And now he stands there and is thanking God! – this guy is unbelievable.”

Out of all the times in life when we are told, “No,” being told, “No,” by God is the most confusing, especially when our requests feel legitimate,  unselfish,  about good outcomes, and are out of deep desperation. We expect God to at least care as much as we do.

What if Jesus would have acquiesced, had come in a hurry, had healed Lazarus, had kept him out of the grave, had said, “Yes,” to their requests and did things the way they had wanted him to. They would have known him less. They would have been condemned to a life of desperate calls for Jesus (God) to hurry, to fix, to bail out. They would have been stuck with an “Ambulance Jesus.” They would have continued in the same old fears. They would have been deprived of a glimpse of who he really is, “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26).

It is a great scene, isn’t it, when Jesus tells four-days-dead-and-decomposing Lazarus to “Come forth!” and then instructs them to take the burial clothes off him (John 11:44-45). Can you imagine the amazement, the joy, the awe? It would not have happened without Jesus waiving their initial request, without Jesus willing Lazarus to die, without Jesus waiting for days before showing up.

We think the best thing is when God answers our prayers the way we think is best, but it infinitely better when God responds to our petitions and requests, no matter how desperately we feel, the way he thinks is best, including him saying, “No, child.” How thankful I am that he not only knows what is best but also does what is best, undaunted by our expectations, frustration, desperation, pain, and confusion.

To God be all glory. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

If you were in the direct path of a category 5 hurricane and someone told of a way to keep you, your family, and your neighbors completely save, would you pay attention? If that person told you that you not to board up the house but instead have a barbeque with some very specific ingredients and instructions, would you take her serious, or would you politely smile and get the plywood, hammer, and nails?

A spiritual storm was brewing in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had turned on people they once had invited, the Hebrews. Their solution was to oppress this growing minority who was threating to dilute all things Egyptian, so they reduced them to the status of slaves. What the Egyptians didn’t know was that God, for reasons only known to himself, has a special place in his heart for the Hebrews and for all who are oppressed. When the Hebrews demanded liberty, the right to leave, Pharaoh and the Egyptian leadership balked and cracked down harder. Even repeated calamities (known as the 10 plagues) that were unquestionably by the hand of God did not soften their hearts and change their minds and policies. (I wonder what kind of spiritual and political stubbornness, directly opposed to God’s will, besets you and me?) The last of the 10 judgments was that God would strike every male firstborn in Egypt dead. I wonder if the Egyptian leaders laughed in disbelief when Moses announced it to them. After all, how could that possibly happen? I wonder what the Hebrews thought when Moses told them of both the judgment and the only way to escape it. Which brings us back to the barbeque, better known as the Passover (Exodus 12).

Passover is so called because those who observed the first Passover where kept save from the judgment of the death of the firstborn, the angels dispatched to carry out this particular judgment “passed over” every home with the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorjamb and lintel. Besides slaughtering, grilling, and eating sheep or goat yearling, they were also supposed to bake only unleavened bread, and supposed to be ready and dressed to leave Egypt for good. Every Passover since recalls and remembers this event, and that in the wake of it the Egyptians finally relented and let Hebrews leave.

So, what did this have to do with Corinthians Christians (Greeks) 1500 years later, and how is this relevant to you and me 3500 years later? The greatest storm, the final calamity, the full judgment of God regarding all mankind, including you and me, is still to come, and we only have this life to prepare for it. There is no second chance after the night of death, “the day of the Lord?” We like the ancient Hebrews need both liberation and protection from God’s judgment, we need to leave the land of slavery and journey into God’s promises. Sin will not release its slaves voluntarily and God’s judgment will not just arbitrarily pass us by, we need salvation. Without the blood of Jesus Christ, the unblemished sinless lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, without his blood applied to the doorposts of our lives, we will not survive when God will summon the living and the dead before his throne of judgment. The ancient Passover points to the ultimate Passover, Jesus Christ.

So, in the ancient Passover the lamb is Jesus, the blood is his, the bread without leaven, Christ the sinless one. We are the ones dressed to journey, ready to live by faith, willing to trust the word and promises of God, leaving sin (leaven) and its slavery behind, ready to build a different kind of world, one that reflects the rulership, the holiness, and the heart of God.

You would think that all of this is a no brainer, but it wasn’t for the ancient Egyptians, nor was it for the Hebrews, or us today. The Egyptians hung on to their gods, even when they were exposed as impotent and dead idols, just like we hang on to our own beliefs and opinions. The Hebrews constantly wanted to go back, they wanted something less challenging than a life of faith, even if it meant slavery. The Corinthians divorced religious ritual from affecting real life, they hung the traveling clothes in the closet and sang to Jesus while being morally corrupt gorging on leavened bread. And then of course there is us, you and me. What is, and what will be your Passover reality?

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

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Benefits

“Yes, ‘tis sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just from sin and self to cease;

Just from Jesus simply taking,

Life and rest, and joy and peace.”

(Louisa M. R. Stead)

It makes a difference who you are connected with, the relationships you cultivate. I have been connected with, married to Susie, this incredible person, this most lovely woman, this very best friend, this most amazing love, for over 37 years now. It would take me quite a while to list all of the benefits of this ongoing relationship, and at the end of that list I would be singing, “How sweet it is, to be loved by you” (James Taylor).

Throughout those 37 years of sharing love and life the two of us benefited from many relationships, friendships, and connections. It is awesome to have people in your life who have your best interest in mind, who care about you, support you, cheer for you, help you, and put themselves out on your behalf. But hands down our most important relationship, our most indispensible connection has been with Christ, with God. No one has been as kind, as good, as committed, and as faithful to Susie and as Jesus, has been. We know what it means to exclaim with the psalmist, What shall I render to the LORD For all His benefits toward me?” Psalm 116:12 (NASB).

The ancient king David sang,

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (
Psalm 103:1-5, ESV; why not get out a Bible and read the entire Psalm 103).

God can bless, can do, can help, can work, and can orchestrate things no one else can. The list of his benefits is singular, a fact we often forget. The list of his benefits also includes many for which we never give him credit:

Moses reminded, “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, …” Deuteronomy 8:18a (NASB).

Proverbs informs, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” Proverbs 18:22 (ESV); “… a sensible wife is from the Lord”
Proverbs 19:14 (HCSB).

Wise Solomon remembers, Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” Psalm 127:3 (NLT).

Have you ever rented a car and decided to pay for the extra insurance? Only to kick yourself latter when you remembered that one of the benefits of the credit card you used to rent said car is car rental insurance? You have to be aware of the benefits you have. It pays to read the fine print when it comes to benefits, failure to do so just might mean you pay for what is free or lose out altogether. This why the best thing Susie and I have ever done is cultivating our relationship with God in Christ, living in the nearness of God, and continually read his written word (the Bible) so we will rely on all of God’s benefits.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Wind, Fear, Ignorance, and Hard-hearted Christians

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them,  but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out,  for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:47-52 (ESV)

Jesus’ followers, his disciples, Christians are supposed to have growing, tender, compassionate, merciful, and visionary hearts and minds, but the disciples’ hearts “were hardened,” their understanding was lacking. Why?

  1. The winds were contrary – Giving in

It is frustrating when you are rowing for hours and aren’t getting anywhere, when you get blown backwards the second you relax. We live in times of   contrary winds, in constant gusts of fear, terror, senselessness, corruption, and violence. It is easy to have your heart grow hard there, to simply give   yourself over to the direction of the winds of our times, to be swept up by nationalism, racism, extremism, or escapism and apathy.

  1. They saw a “ghost” – Returning to old scripts and ways

They went right back to thinking and reacting like they would have before they met Jesus, to who they were and believed before they responded to   Jesus’ call to follow him. They returned to their version of syncretism, their preferred spiritual drink made up of the religion they were raised in, their       cultural superstitions, and their personal fears. Just like us, they chucked all they knew about Jesus, all he had taught them, all the experiences they had with him, the moment something looked and felt frightening. I am amazed at how many of my brothers and sisters and Christ are falling headlong to         the frightening things of our day, to the rhetoric of fear, to the thinking we have to old onto all that is dear to us before we lose it all and in the process have no vision and hunger for Christ’s kingdom, which is marked by love, justice, life, and all things of eternal value. Jesus first words to his tired,             frustrated, and frightened disciples was, “It’s me! Don’t be afraid.”

  1. They did not understand – they had not learned from the past

They failed to connect what Jesus had just demonstrated to them earlier in the day to their present situation, to their fears, and to override their old    ways of seeing and responding to things. They really did not understand, but Jesus thought they should have. Christians should know by now that    the results are disastrous, bloody, cruel, and outright evil when nationalism, racism, atheism, and extremism is let out of the box, even, or especially, if it is mixed with a little Bible. They should have known that     Jesus could and would take care of them that they had nothing to fear, that he who sent them to go across the lake would also get them there regardless of the winds, regardless of their fears, and regardless of how difficult things were.

So how are the winds of our time affecting you my brothers and sisters in Christ? How filled with fear, trepidation, and negativity are you? Which voices are you listening to, who has your ear? Are you applying the lessons Jesus has taught you in both life and the scriptures to the present, to your fears, to the current issues, to your politics, to your engagement with our world as a servant of Jesus? Or are you adjusting scripture to accommodate your easier sailing, to give your fears free reign, to excuse your negativity, to settle for something less than Christ’s kingdom, to justify the unjust, to mix the drink you like and have always liked? Is your understanding of Christ and his kingdom (rule) growing, is your heart growing softer?

Regardless of the frightening winds of our time Jesus still says to us, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Salvation without transformation is misinformation that results in damnation.

If your house has termites how many of them do want to be gone, for how many do you pay the exterminator to get rid off? How much of the termite damage do you want your contractor to fix? I imagine your answers were, “All of the termites and all of the damage.”

If you were to get sprayed by a skunk (and I have), how much of that foul smell does your spouse want you to wash off before coming to bed? I imagine your answer would be, “All of it, and make sure you put on a hefty dose of cologne.”

How much of our sin, our depravity, our moral and spiritual rot and filth do you think God’s grace is trying to address? How deep do you think the grace of God is trying to sink into our hearts and lives? How much does God’s grace want to change in us and about us? The answers to these questions are, “All of it, to my very core, and more than I imagine.”

The grace of God aims to be transforming. There is no way to drink from the cup of God’s grace and be unchanged. If you remain unchanged you haven’t swallowed. As James puts it, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), meaning: you can’t believe in the love, grace, and mercy of God (salvation) and live unchanged.” If the love of Christ has touched us it compels us to love. If our sins are forgiven we should be forgiving. If we have received mercy it should make us merciful. If the joy of God and his salvation has filled us we should be joyful and positive. If the goodness of God is real it should cause us to desire to do good. If the peace of God keeps our hearts and minds we should pursue peace. If we have benefited from the patience of God we should be patient with others. If the selflessness, the obedience, the faithfulness, the kindness, and humility of Jesus has in any way worked in our favor then we ought to embrace the same.

Somehow we are very comfortable with saving grace, who doesn’t want to go heaven? We love the everyday grace of God, the grace that makes the sun rise, the rains fall, puts bread on our tables, and gives us opportunities in life (Matthew 5:45). We don’t complain about delivering grace, healing grace, God-helping-me out grace, that would be foolish. But how quickly we begin to resist transforming grace, when God wants to replace more than a few roof shingles, when he starts scraping off old paint, lays bare the rot, starts messing with our values, our outlooks, our attitudes, the way we react and interact, and puts our motives, our pursuits, and lifestyles on the table.

After following Jesus for almost forty years I still find surrendering to God’s transforming grace most challenging. I am amazed and ashamed how resistant I can be, how many self-deceptive excuses I can conjure up, how quickly I can deflect, and how disobedient I can be. I pray to be like the Apostle Paul, after having an opportunity to tell king Agrippa of his conversion, of the time when the saving grace of Christ met him, quickly added, “So … I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19 NASB). What a statement of surrender to transforming grace.

When it comes to transforming grace we face a triple threat:

  • All of our old scripts, the defaults of our sinful self. O how good they are in pulling us back, helping us to revert, to revel in saving grace while resisting transforming grace.
  • Declaring ourselves changed enough, holy enough. Resting on past progress and viewing ourselves in comparison to others has a way of making us resistant to present obedience.
  • Thinking of grace only in passive terms, God saves me by his grace, God will change me by his grace, and finally God will glorify me his grace. That however is not the whole truth; God’s saving grace compels us to believe, to repent, to confess, God’s glorifying grace is preceded by perseverance, and God’s transforming grace requires our cooperation and obedience.

Read the first sentence again. None of us needs just a little bit of Jesus, a little bit grace, we need all of Christ and all of God’s grace, anything less is self-deception, will make us pull up short of God’s marvelous grace (Hebrews 12:15). On the flipside, there is nothing like being transformed by God’s grace, We all … are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (HCSB).

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

 

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