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It looked terrible, totally unappetizing, no way I was going to eat those two large Mason jars filled with canned steelhead. “That’s an awesome gift,” my friend, who knew the giver, “He doesn’t give these to just anybody, and two jars at that.”

“Well, it might be a real special gift, but there is no way I am going to eat that. It looks sick. You can have ‘em.”

“I’m not going to take them unless you taste some,” he said while opening one of the jars. He got two forks and scooped out a big bite with his, “Mmmh, mmmh! that’s good,” he grunted.

So, I reluctantly followed his lead and stabbed myself a little piece, closed my eyes and stuffed it into my mouth, “Wow! That is incredible. You’re not getting this, you can get your own jars,” I informed him, while he just grinned from ear to ear.

I almost gave away a special gift and missed out one of the most delicious things I‘ve ever tasted, simply because I didn’t like the way it looked and because I was I was unwilling to open the jar and give it a try. I can’t tell you how often I have seen the above play out spiritually.

We are meant to grow “in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) after we made commitment to follow him, after we put our faith and trust in Christ to save from our sins, from the power of death, and from the eternal judgment of God. For that growth to take place we must open the food pantry of God’s written word (the Bible), take the lids off the jars we find there, and start eating what is in them.

The good news is that not everything in God’s word looks as unappetizing as those jars of canned steelhead. Peace and joy look pretty good me, as does living without debt, having a clear conscience, being hopeful, good habits, getting a handle on anger, … On the flipside our old self, our old habits, our sinful nature have little appetite for whatever God gives us, delicacy or not. Our old self is perfectly content with both spiritual fast food and junk food, with living according to our old ways, according to our own opinions and preferences, and settling for little or no spiritual growth. James indicts the readers of his letter (including us) for looking at God’s cupboard stocked with stuff to help us grow, only to walk away to eat what we have always eaten, to do what we have always done, “… ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.  But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does” James 1:21-25 (HCSB).

In the immediate context James pulls four jars out of God’s spiritual growth pantry and opens them up while handing you and me a fork. The first jar addresses how we need to deal with anger (1:19-20), the second is about our need for staying spiritually and morally clean (1:21, 27b), the third is about having a godly mouth with Christlike responses (1:26), the fourth jar is meant to help us grow in our responses to people with needs, to people who often forgotten and oppressed (1:27a), and the (1:21&27b).

You can show up Sunday after Sunday and have the preacher tell you about how delicious the stuff in these jars is, you can read your Bible every day and become an expert in reading the labels on the jars, in your small group Bible study you can discuss in great detail the nutrition information on the back of each jar, you can become good at identifying people who are obviously not eating what is in those jars, and yet never put the fork in your mouth yourself.

The way spiritual growth works is that we have to apply what is in the jars at the very moments their content directly applies, when I am angry, when I am confronted with moral filth within or without, when my mouth spouts ugly, when I am confronted with needs and am called upon to help. If I don’t use my fork there and eat I will not grow.

Spiritual growth does not take place by neatly organizing the cupboard, by having all the labels pointing into the same direction, by memorizing the inventory. It takes place when we take out the right jar and eating it all right when and where it applies. If, after deciding to follow Christ, the way I handle my anger has not changed, if my mouth is as negative, vile, judgmental, and unkind as ever, if my response to the needy, forgotten, and oppressed remains apathetic and uninvolved, then I have simply been looking at the jars without eating what is in them.

Get out your fork, eat what God in his word is currently setting before you. You will be amazed at how good it is, and your growth will become evident to all.

To 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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Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)

 I hate to admit it, but I am not as sure footed as I was when I was 25. I was reminded of that last time I went trout fishing on the South Fork of the Tuolumne river. I used to be able to rock hop and leap all over. Now I am much more prone to stumble and fall. In fact, I hit the deck twice a few weeks ago just navigating around my yard. I blame it on my current back struggles and how they affect my left leg.

I watch my grandson trying to gain stability on his young legs. He too, spills regularly, but he doesn’t fall as far and his bones are softer than mine. Yet, if he fails to gain stability on his legs his life will be much tougher, much more bruised, and much more limited.

Of course we don’t just stumble with our legs. Ever stumbled with your mouth? Didn’t find the right words? Made a mess with the words you did manage? Wish you could somehow take them words back?

We stumble with our emotions. For many, their temper and anger (how they express and manage it) trip them up time after time. They continually make them stumble. For others it is depression, or anxiety, or paralyzing fear.

For some it is money, the making of it, the managing (actually mismanaging) of it, the spending of it, the love of it, that time after time causes them to stumble, to upset their lives, to add enormous stress and worry.

James is right when he writes, we all stumble in many ways” James 3:2 (ESV). People have stumbled over their ambitions, jealousy, because of their friends, relatives, how people have treated them, injustice, and ….

Jude’s main concern in his short letter next to the last book of the Bible is far too many people stumbling spiritually. I can attest to that after pastoring for 32 years. Heck, all I have to do is look in the mirror and get a glimpse of a stumbler.

Stumbling is a special concern to me as a Dad and now Granddad. I want to model and contribute to the stability of my children and grandchildren, and that is tough to do if I stumble too much, especially spiritually. There is absolutely no one better at helping me/us when it comes to stumbling, gaining balance, acquiring stability in life with all of its challenges and twist and turns, than God and his Son Jesus Christ. There is no resource better than the Bible (God’s written revelation) when it comes to building the strength of mind, heart, faith, and habits needed to avoid stumbling. There are few foundational habits as important as gathering weekly with other stumblers to encourage each other and worship the one who daily offers his almighty hand to keep us from stumbling.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Susie and I started our life together like many others with basically nothing in regard to money and possessions. Married halfway through college our major goal was to finish college without being in debt. So after two years of marriage all we owned fit into our tiny Datsun F-10 alongside our baby son and lone piece of furniture, a rocking chair.

Things didn’t get any better financially the next few years. I ended up out of work and we were poor, really poor. When I finally got a job it was minimum wage. I don’t know how Susie managed to feed us the way she did. And somehow, by God’s goodness, we paid our bills.

Well that baby who traveled with us in the Datsun F-10 turned out to be a very smart little fellow. Turns out he has like an almost photographic memory, which meant he beat me at Memory at age three, right after he figured out that for the past six months Daddy only won by following his eyes. When he started looking in other directions I was toast.

That little rascal wasn’t just good at Memory, he was also good at money, saving it, managing it, keeping track of it. I don’t remember exactly when it started, but I remember why. I needed some money for gas and we lived an hour from or bank, and we really didn’t have anything in the bank. In my need I borrowed from the smart little fellow. He was more than willing, but I think he already had memorized Proverbs 22:7, The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (NASB). So now he could not only beat me in Memory but he could also call in my loan. “Hey Daddy, you might really want think about that spanking because your current balance is minus $30.00.” Good thing he was not the kind of conniving kid his Daddy was as a kid.

Once, as I was trying to settle my current account with him (I think he was twelve by then) we disagreed on the figure. I could have sworn I had made a previous payment, but whose memory was more reliable? Whose figures did we eventually go by? You probably guessed it.

That little guy is now a grown man with his own family. I so hope his sons will have photographic memories and whoop their Daddy’s behind in memory and who knows what. But they won’t end up loaning him money because he is still good at managing it, saving it, keeping track of it, and even more importantly, being generous with it.

It is much easier to be generous when you are not in debt. That little “loan shark” of ours figured that out too. He delighted in figuring out his tithe (10% you honor God with) of whatever money he was blessed with. He loved buying his sisters treats. He enjoyed giving extravagant gifts. That’s much easier to do when you are in the black and not in the red. In the red the first obligation is to the one you owe, and depending on how much you owe there might not be anything left to be generous with. It is tough to experience “It is more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35 (NASB), when you are in debt.

One more thing, it is amazing what can happen to us financially and materially when four things come together: 1. Working hard, 2. Managing well, 3. Honoring God, and 4. Generosity.

“I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” Acts 20:35 (NLT).

 “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce” Proverbs 3:9 (NLT).

 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip. The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more …” Matthew 25:14-16 (NLT).

 “… God loves a cheerful giver” 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV).

Wouldn’t it be great if we’d figure all of this out before the age of five? But even if we didn’t, today would be a great day to start.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. If you live in or around Don Pedro and you wonder how to make a start on the above why not sign up for an upcoming Biblical Financial Seminar in the month of May. Contact the church office ldpbaptistchurch@gmail.com, (209) 852-2040. If you do not live around here check out http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/ or http://www.crown.org/ .

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Better Gets Us into Trouble, or A Better Better

We have it even if never really thought about it; in fact, the less we have thought about it the greater its grip on us and our behavior. I am talking about our definition of better. More money – better. Bigger house – better. More free time – better. Bigger TV, smarter smart phone, fancier car, kitchen, BBQ, furniture, … – all better. Notice how much better depends on more money.

How many of the following would you mark as better for you and us as a society? Greater devotion to God, to Christ, and his church. More generosity. More communal involvement. More sacrificial love. More commitment to marriage and family. Less stuff. More time to serve each other. Notice that all of them require time, money, but less for yourself.

Proverbs, the most extensive wisdom book of God’s word (the Bible), recognizes how easy it is to work out of a flawed definition of “better” and the need we have to check and adjust our definition of “better” against true wisdom. “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf (T-bone steak) with hatred” Proverbs 15:16-17 (NIV, parenthesis mine). “Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice” Proverbs 16:8 (NASB).

The wrong working definition of “better” will breed discontent, greed, debt, ungratefulness, and all sorts of evil. A good definition of “better” recognizes the truth that “… true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money (and all the things money can buy) is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” 1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

It doesn’t come natural to us to work with, to live out of, a better definition of “better”. The Apostle Paul wrote that he had to learn contentment, continually gratefulness, and the joy of depending on God, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT).

Two brothers were fighting over their inheritance. Clearly both of them thought more was better. Neither was content, happy, or grateful. Their definition of “better” was of no help, in fact their definition of better was more than willing to be unloving, unkind, use harsh words, and take each other to court. Court wasn’t going so well for one of the brothers so he turned to Jesus to help him arbitrate. Jesus refused, but he did challenge the one on the short end of the dispute to examine his definition of “better” and how it affected his heart, his attitude, his love, his relationships, and his life. Someone out of the crowd said, “Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.” …  

Jesus replied, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods,  and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’ Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’ That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.” …

“Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being” Luke 12:13-21, 31-34 (MSG).

“Where has your “Better” taken you? Where will your “Better” take you? Is it time to adopt a better “better”? Is it time to Make sure that your character is free from the love of money (and all it can buy), being content with what you have; for He (God) Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU” Hebrews 13:5 (NASB, parentheses mine).

To God be all glory. Love you, pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How rich is God? “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” Psalm 24:1 (NLT). “’The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts” Haggai 2:8 (NASB).

Let the reality of what you just read about God’s unfathomable riches sink in for a minute. It means:

  • He is able to supply for all of our needs.
  • He will never run out, be in debt, go bankrupt, or worry about tomorrow.
  • He is completely unfamiliar with not having enough.
  • He knows how to manage for the long-haul. He has been doing an outstanding job with the entire universe for as long as it has existed.
  • He has better financial wisdom than all those wealthy people listed in Forbes Magazine combined (which doesn’t mean we cannot learn from those who manage well).
  • He owns everything you and I and everyone else has. Which means we are accountable to him for how we manage what we have.
  • The ultimate purpose of wealth is to please and honor its owner – God.

How in the world has the wealthiest nation on earth got itself into an over $19 trillion and counting national debt hole? Take a minute and go to http://www.usdebtclock.org , it will make your head spin. Even more staggering is the over $64,000,000,000,000 (64 trillion) total debt in the USA. That means it’s not just the government, the states, counties, and municipalities that are lousy in managing money, it is also the average citizen (the total personal debt is over $17 trillion). Somewhere along the lines we have forgotten an important truth about managing money, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” Proverbs 22:7 (ESV). When it comes to money and managing wealth we are collectively ignoring God’s wisdom and as a result are missing out on God’s blessing and ability to supply. God is not in the slavery business, but somehow our entire culture thinks that debt and the slavery that comes with it is a good thing.

If you are continually scraping by, never have enough, always borrowing, straining under a load of debt, forever worried, then maybe it’s time to tap into God’s wisdom, learn God’s ways, and seek God’s blessing.

The ancient Israelites needed to get back to God’s financial wisdom, they were limping from one financial crisis to the next. God told them, Bring the full tenth into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the LORD of Hosts. “See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure” Malachi 3:10 (HCSB). They needed to go back and learn what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians who weren’t following God’s financial wisdom either, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLT).

If what you have read so far in this pastor’s note is hitting a nerve, if the last two scriptures you read is something you want then here is what you do:

  • Establish or reestablish a real connection with God. It is always about more than money. You get into a right relationship with God trough faith in Christ. Call me, email me, or come to the next church service if you have questions on that (209 852-2029, dergermanshepherd@gmail.com, http://www.ldpbaptistchurch.com ).
  • Come to all of the April church services because God’s ability to provide and his financial wisdom is this month’s topic.
  • Sign up for the seminar that will follow the sermon series, so you can learn the practical application of God’s wisdom. Call or email to get on the seminar sign-up list. (If you don’t live in Don Pedro check out http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/ , or http://www.crown.org/ ).
  • Take a moment right now and ask for God to help you, tell him you need him and his financial wisdom, ask him to forgive you for where you have mismanaged both finances and life, tell him you are interested in his ways and blessing.

The best time to get started is right now. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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What can you get for one dollar? A squirt of gasoline, something of the dollar menu at a fast food joint, a can of soda , an apple. In general you don’t get very much for a dollar. On the other hand you can feed and educate a child for a day in many places around the globe.
What can you buy or do with a hundred dollars? More than what you can with just one dollar that’s for sure. You can fill your tank with gasoline and have some left over (depending on the size of your car), you can go out to eat, you can stock up on soda, and you can feed and educate a child for several months.
What about ten thousand dollars? Without a doubt that’s a lot more than a hundred bucks. You could buy a used car and zip all over the US, eat out a lot, go on a fabulous vacation, do some serious upgrading, or you could feed and educate almost thirty children for year.
What could you do with a million, one hundred million, or even a billion dollars? A heck of a lot and also not very much. You couldn’t buy an ounce of integrity, it wouldn’t be enough to purchase a squirt of genuine love, it would not be enough from keeping death from laughing at you, it would be insufficient to post bail in the court room of God, it would fall short on a down payment for even a day of eternal life, it could not purchase God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace, and it would only be a fraction of the worth of one human soul. Jesus put it plainly, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” Mark 8:35-38 (NIV).
Can you start doing good with just one dollar? Absolutely. Can you ever earn enough money to acquire what is most important in life and what you need the most? Absolutely not. Will money elevate your status, influence, and power in this world? Yes it does. Will money impress God and earn you his favor? No it doesn’t. “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it,” 1 Timothy 6:7 (NIV). That’s why it is important for us to listen when the word of God reminds us, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:8-10 (HCSB).
I am hoping that the dollars passing through your and my fingers will remind us:
• That the most important things of life money cannot buy.
• That every dollar entrusted to me has the potential to accomplish something good.
• That for the wellbeing of your and my soul we are completely dependent on God and Jesus Christ.
To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

 

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