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Have you ever had a question to which you already knew the answer, but you didn’t like the answer?

“Yes, stop smoking, exercise, and change your diet,” was the doctor’s reply to his smoking, overweight patient asking, “Hey Doc, is there anything I can do to improve my health?”

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Luke 10:25-28 (NIV)

This Jesus/God testing lawyer knew the answer to his question, but he didn’t like the answer. It’s even worse when the answer comes out of your own mouth, isn’t it? When you know you are and hear yourself being a living discrepancy. So, this lawyer did what you and I usually do, try to justify ourselves, tell ourselves why we can’t, why it is too difficult, fish for something simpler, a way out, find an excuse to not change. But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29 (NIV)

He was asking for a pill that would spare him having to act, not have to give up anything, change nothing. He was trying to excuse his not-neighbor-loving passivity by raising a philosophical/theological inner dilemma. He was fishing for a minimum standard, like love is in the habit of functioning by minimum standards. He wanted to remain in control instead of his love for God and people controlling him. He was looking for some legitimacy for selective loving or loving not at all.

Jesus never does answer the “who is my neighbor?” question, instead, he tells maybe his most famous story and asks a question in return, makes the God-tester say the answer out loud for the second time. In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise”
Luke 10:30-37 (NIV).

The question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” it is, “Are you a neighbor?” Because when you are a neighbor you see like a neighbor, you empathize like a neighbor, you have compassion like a neighbor, you engage like a neighbor. You no longer are trying to complete a checklist of love before taking off to eternal life/heaven but see life, people, circumstances through the eyes of love and react accordingly.

Maybe it is time to drop the excuses, the action-paralyzing mind-games, the magic pill search that will remedy our selectively loving or outright loveless hearts and begin to “love your neighbor as ourselves.”

May you and I, long before we go to heaven, be known as the kind of neighbors the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” envisions.

To God be all Glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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It is telling that Thanksgiving Thursday is followed by Black Friday, gratefulness followed by a grabbing shopping frenzy’s first giant wave for shoppers to serve on, followed by Cyber Monday and an incredible surf for consumerism all the way into Christmas.

“A leech has twin daughters named ‘Gimme’ and ‘Gimme more.’ Three things are never satisfied, no, there are four that never say, ‘That’s enough, thank you!’— hell, a barren womb, a parched land, a forest fire” Proverbs 30:15-16 (MSG).

Greed is never satisfied either, it boldly declares, “More is better!” But Jesus warned, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot” Luke 12:15 (MSG).

Spiritually speaking, Thanksgiving Thursday should be followed by Frivolous Friday where people stand in line in the wee hours of the morning to get in on being generous, followed by Max Monday when online donations go through the roof, followed by an unleashing of the most enormous wave of generosity and giving all the way into Christmas and the New Year. “Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous” 1 Timothy 6:17-18 (MSG).

We never have to oil our “Getter,” it is one of those pre-greased, permanently lubricated gears right out of the box. It loves to get more, doesn’t blink at over-spending and charging credit cards to the max, and entices us to make fellow “Gimme”-disciples out of infants in diapers. The only way to put the “Getter” in its place is to develop our “Giver.” We all have one, it’s just that the “Getter” likes to dominate and is never happy for very long. In order for our “Giver” to be what God wants it to be we have to do three things:

  1. Daily grease our hearts and attitudes with contentment, But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” 1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV); “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, …” Hebrews 13:5 (NIV).
  2. Continually applying contentment, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” Philippians 4:11 (NIV).
  3. Actually giving until we enjoy giving, until we not just give but have become givers at our core. “God loves a cheerful, happy giver” 2 Corinthians 9:7, (Notice, that the “giver” here is something God means for us to be).

There is nothing wrong in giving even an extravagant gift to someone we love. But God wants to grow us into givers who excel in giving to needs to accomplish his will and carry out his purposes, and who reflect Christlikeness.

 “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, emphasis mine).

This Christmas season; let’s excel in generosity God loves.

Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Changed wireless plan to unlimited for just five dollars more a month – a little thing.
  • Standing in line at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for a ridiculously long time – a little thing.
  • Finished restoring the old 65 Aristocrat travel trailer – a little thing.
  • Our first granddaughter born healthy and her Mama is okay – a very big thing.
  • A lost, sinful soul found and restored – a very big thing in heaven (Luke 15)
  • Money management – a very little very big thing

            Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg– I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” 
Luke 16:15 (NIV)

In our perspective, and certainly in the Pharisees’ mindset, Jesus turned a lot of things upside down in just a few sentences. We are prone to managing God and worshipping money, but we should be doing the exact opposite. Did you also notice how the dishonest manager needed a change of perspective: from “now” to “long-term,” from focusing on making his life better to using his influence and power to make life easier for others, from misuse to right use of money, from hedonism to spiritual and eternal significance. (You might want to read on in Luke 16 and let Jesus confront you with the second parable/story in this chapter as well).

According to Jesus/God, there is a difference between being rich and being truly rich, but, truth be told, many (if not most) of us would settle for the former and give little thought to the latter. And so, we end up making a little (literally a smaller than microscopic thing) a big thing, which ends up making a huge impact on our hearts, our perspective, our priorities, our relationships, our character, and most importantly our eternal destiny.

The rich man in the second parable of Luke 16 implores Moses to send a poor, paralyzed man back from the dead to warn his brothers, to shake them up, so they would manage their wealth and lifestyle differently, with eternity and accountability to God in mind. Moses refuses the plea, telling him that they already have enough information in the Word of God (the Bible) to know what they should do and how to do it. Which means we do as well, and thus it is merely a question of whether or not we will.

To God Be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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