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Christmas and the Revelation and the Knowledge of God

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

  • Creation, the cosmos, the physical world

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

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

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

  • Faith Experience

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

  • Jesus Christ

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

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

Merry Christmas! Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Psalm 150:1-6 (NLT2)

I am assuming, by the fact that you are reading this pastor’s note, that you are breathing, which means Psalm 150 above is talking about you.

You might not have enough breath to produce a blast out of the “ram’s horn,” maybe not even enough to get it to squeak, but if you have any breath you are capable of praising God, the LORD.

You might not have the skill to play the lyre, harp, strings, or flute, but if you are breathing right now you are capable of praising God, the LORD.

Your dancing days might be over and a tambourine in your hands might not be a good thing, but if you can wiggle just a bit and even if that little bit leaves you out of breath you can still and should still praise God, the LORD.

Letting you play the drums might be huge mistakes and the end of any band, but if you can bang two pots together you are capable of praising God, the LORD.

So, the question is: Are you praising God? Are you known as someone who habitually and continually praises God? Are you using your breath and the life your breath represents to praise God? Because, if I read the last line of Psalm 150 correctly, every living, breathing thing is meant to praise God, the Lord, and that includes the two living, breathing two of us.

The donkey living a few houses down uses his breath to praise God and when he does, you know it. The many birds around our houses give daily morning and evening concerts of praise even when they had a hard day or difficult week. How much more should you and I, image-bearers of God, excel in singing praises to God!

It’s a mistake to quit praising God, to shut down our ability to praise God, to use up our breath with complaints, fears, anxieties, trivialities, things that don’t deserve repeating, empty talk, ugly words, and songs dripping with negativity. Of all the creatures capable of praising God we are the ones who have to choose to do so, we can choose to so.

So, give it a try, get out a pot and a big wooden spoon, step outside with it, look up and begin praising God for his greatness and follow each statement of praise with a resounding “BANG!” On your way to work this week turn off the news, the talking heads, your song list, and instead spend some time praising God for who he is and what he has done in your life. At the dinner table share your “Today, I praise God for ….!” And next weekend, come to the “sanctuary,” God’s house, to lift up your praises alongside others who delight to use their breath to praise God.

To God be all glory! Have a great Thanksgiving. Pastor Hans

 

P.S. If you are not traveling this Thanksgiving, invite someone in your neighborhood who would otherwise be alone to be part of your Thanksgiving celebration and feast.

 

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Eight glasses of water? Four cups of coffee? A pot of tea? Several energy drinks? A two-liter bottle of Coke? A six-pack of beer? It doesn’t matter how much you drank yesterday, you will be thirsty again today.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a few snacks. Cereal, sandwiches, wraps, burritos, burgers and fries, TV-dinners, salads, steak and potatoes, barbeque, gourmet creations? It doesn’t matter how much you ate yesterday, you will be hungry today.

Yesterday’s peace-offerings, compromises, political arrangements, concessions, sacrifices, wise arrangements, handouts, freebies, none of them will satisfy for long. The cry for more, for change, for “my/our” way now, will return.

It reveals our brokenness, this insatiability, this inability to sustain life, happiness, justice, and peace for any length of time. It reveals our sinfulness, our constant complaining and bickering even when things are going great and we have more than enough, our willingness to mistreat, rob, roll over, treat others unjustly in the pursuit of our needs, appetites, wants, and dreams, our short-lived gratitude or outright ungratefulness.

We are always running out, constantly having to refill, never having enough, unable to lay hold of what is lasting. We can’t make anything last, much less make it eternal, beginning with satisfying our most basic needs and those of our neighbor.

“Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” Mark 15:15 (ESV). It worked for less day, then they were back asking for more (Matthew 27:62-65)

Solomon in his pursuit of pleasure, status, and empire-building amassed for himself what might have been the largest harem in history (1 Kings 11:3) and yet, he advised his sons, Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” Proverbs 5:18-19 (ESV).

Haman had a thriving career, wealth, influence, and power, but his anti-Semitism, his hatred left him continually dissatisfied,  “All this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” Esther 5:13 (ESV).

Achan, rummaging through the rubble after the victory at Jericho, took what God had declared as belonging to him,  when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath” Joshua 7:21 (ESV). It didn’t matter that he was on his way to receive his portion in the land God had promised them. His greed and covetousness, a bottomless pit, became a snare to him and his family.

Jesus warned the rich, fat, happy, and-self-sufficient Christians of Laodicea, “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” Revelation 3:17-18 (ESV). They were so deceived by their prosperity and self-sufficiency that they were blind and oblivious to any reality outside their own happiness, that none of it would last, their spiritual needs, and that they lived like they didn’t need God. Jesus said, “You’re leaving a bad taste in my mouth, I am ready to spit you out!” – Ouch!

The only one who can satisfy the thirsts of our souls both now and for eternity. Jesus told a Samaritan woman who had come to get water from the local well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” John 4:13-14 (NIV). You and I are no different from her, from the crowd Pilate tried to appease, from Solomon and his sexual desires, or Haman and his hate, Achan and his covetousness and greed, or the spoiled and oblivious Laodiceans. Our greatest need is God, the life that is found only in Christ, the forgiveness poured out in Jesus death, the wholeness of our souls brought about by the water offered from Jesus’ hands.

So, reach out your cup, let Christ fill it.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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“Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will,” (Mark 14:36).

What I think is in my best interest might not be in your best interest, and what you think is in your best interest might not be in everybody else’s best interest. Today will not be much different from yesterday in the fact that the world over people will clash, siblings will have it out, husbands and wives will disagree, political factions will dispute, countries will be in turmoil internally and at war with each other.

We need very little training in exerting our wills, in claiming the high ground, in the kind of pride that asserts to know what is best. It is the beast within us trying to survive and thrive and have it easy that worships at the altar of self, that ignores morality, that breathes hubris. The mountain lion gives no thought whether it hunts deer to extinction. But we are not mere beasts, we are living souls created in God’s own image, capable of insight, foresight, moral contemplation, and acting out of more than self-interest and mere survival, of behaving honorably and godly. We are also fallen images of God, sinful souls from the moment we were conceived, under the reality of death. In the reality of death, the fear of losing out and survival become paramount, the interests of others are secondary, morality becomes a hindrance, the elevation of self is justified. In the end, however, we consume ourselves, we kill the tree that gives us life like mistletoe does to its host.

The greatest battles we fight are the ones were our wills clash with the interests of others, were our wills clash with the will of him who alone knows what is truly best for all, God. Our greatest battles are those where we must choose between acting like images of God or mere beasts, between trusting God’s will over our own.

Can we trust God’s will? Even if it includes losing out, suffering, death? And, hasn’t that kind of reasoning been used to lure people into evil religious radicalism and senseless martyrdom? The answer is, “Yes!” In our sinfulness and self-centeredness, we know how to pervert the good and right, to hijack the noble, to trample the godly. But it is also true that it was Jesus, the sinless one, who had not robed, harmed, abused, cheated, discarded, or lied to anyone, who prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours, Father (God),” when he had to decide between escaping suffering and death and what was in the best interest of all of mankind according to God’s omniscience, purposes, and will. When he had to decide between his fears and the resurrection power of God.

It was a struggle; clashes of wills usually are. Three times, in deepest turmoil of soul, Jesus wrestled the temptation to run, to settle for what would spare him. And so much hung in the balance. We too will struggle, we will have to sort it out, and much hangs in the balance.

 “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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“Look at the birds … Consider the lilies of the field…” Matthew 6:26 &28

They were strutting their stuff; seriously, all seven of them, decked out to the nines, whooping and hollering at anything that remotely resembled a female. When the sunlight hit them just right they lit up in an explosion of iridescent colors, yet they were oblivious to just how spectacular they looked. Their tiny brains cooked on an overdose of springtime testosterone these seven boys put on the full show to garner an invite from our lone goose and three old chickens, which were glad for the fence separating them from this gang of juvenile toms. They strutted, they gobbled, they inflated their flaming red necks, they fanned out their magnificent tail feathers like big bouquets, they dropped their wings to the ground and danced in circles and figure eights trying to outdo their buddy next to him. It was quite the show, but it obviously did not impress the hens and goose, which only aided their efforts until in utter consternation and frustration over how anyone could resist such an exquisite display of masculinity and wooing, and so they decided to pack it in and move on. That’s when we saw her emerging from behind the woodpile, one solitary, plain clothed, smallish, wild turkey hen. I am not sure if she looked scared or if she was smiling over the fact that these boys were like putty in her hands, that she had the power to keep them dancing for the rest of spring. I do know that wherever she went they followed, trying to impress that girl, to make her chose just him. Susie and I were quite entertained by this impromptu morning turkey ruckus.

Of course, I could also tell you about the stellar jay and its hidden shades of blue covering its back, which only become visible when the light hits just right. Or I could tell you about our walk at Salt Point and its sandstone scar that has been the battlefield between the ocean and the continent for eons and in all of its rawness holds fascinating beauty. We could go out after church this weekend and try to discover as many different flowers dressed in timeless high-end fashion, I am sure it would take us more than the afternoon.

I understand why some say they don’t need church to be close to God, God does tell about himself through his creation, and he speaks and teaches us through it as well. He also speaks through his church in ways that nature can’t, it is not one or the other, but we are poorer if don’t pay attention to both. But that’s not my point for this pastor’s note. I wanted to remind you that God speaks to us, teaches us, and reminds us of important things (and often in connection with praying and reading Scripture, the Bible). Springtime seems to just want to grab our hands and pull us outside to look, to listen, to be captivated, to have the sunlight hit just right to reveal flashes of God that leave us breathless and in awe.

I remember sitting out on the tiny balcony of my brother’s apartment in the middle of Stuttgart. Like a good Swabian he and his wife had things growing on the balcony, but looking up swallows were giving an awesome areal show. For us living in Don Pedro, that seems rather ordinary, but God can speak through those swallows, a lizard on a rock, a gourd in the desert, a sparrow in the street, an eagle in the sky, a lily by the roadside, and turkeys at breakfast.

And what about those turkeys? They made me think about what a turkey I can be, that my base instincts are corrupted by sin and can have me act like a fool or hurtful and then excuse it a normal. I thought about #Me Too looking at that little hen who was being pestered and pressured by those seven males and that surely we can do better. I thought about how much thought God put into the plumage of a turkey, they really are a sight in full regalia. I was reminded that God wants me to dress in Christlikeness, reflect the beauty of Christ, from early morning till night, and for this entire season we call life.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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Fine Lines

When I expected good, then evil came; When I waited for light, then darkness came. Job 30:26 (NASB)

Isn’t calamity reserved for the wicked? Isn’t disaster supposed to strike those who do wrong? Job 31:3 (MSG)

We needed rain, which is nothing abnormal here in dry Don Pedro. So, the forecast of a wet week was a blessing, the snow piling up in the high country a huge relief for what had been an abysmal rainy season ushering us straight into another drought. The rains of the week before and of Tuesday and Wednesday were a delight to farmers, ranchers, residents, and water managers. Then came Thursday.

After a night of normal rain playing its rhythmic tune on our bedroom window the morning and early afternoon turned into a deluge, lighting up the radar map in red and purple. Water was everywhere, culverts turned into water-cannons, ditches filled and ran over everywhere, small ponds formed wherever there was a drain, creeks swelled into torrents, small bridges collapsed, roads gave way, low lying houses became victims, and blessing quickly turned into a catastrophe.

We live nearer to catastrophe than we think. Drought and deluge separated by just a few days. Not enough, enough, and too much separated by spaces smaller than the stones of Machu Picchu. Rejoicing, panic, and despair within arms lengths. Peace, unrest, and war separated by just a few decisions. Prosperity, barely paying the bills, and poverty living next to each other on the same street. Political stability, chaos, and tyranny determined by a handful. Health, sickness, and death mere microscopic distances apart.

It is frightening to have so little control, to be so exposed to the power of nature, so vulnerable to the unseen, so subject to the unplanned, so depended on good decisions of others, so unable to guard against it all. It also reveals how dependent we are on grace and mercy of God, without whom nature, mankind’s depravity, and our mortality would ultimately harm and destroy us all.

It is astounding how quickly clouds unleashed can humble us, isn’t it? Our hubris, most of the time, is blind to the fine lines, to our frailty, our smallness, our need for God to pour out grace and mercy even more than we need for the sun to rise. Our hubris is also quick to indict God, to drag him into court for not doing more, for not holding everything and everyone in check from crossing the lines that divide blessing from disaster, the just from the unjust, good from evil, life from death. But he is not obligated, he does he deserve our scorn in distress any more than our ignoring him and ungratefulness when all is well. I suppose those are fine lines too, the line between godlessness, idolatry, and the fear and worship of God.

We won’t forget the deluge of March 22, 2018, especially those who suffered loss and harm, but we will not long live out of an awareness of the fine lines and how dependent we are on the goodness, mercy, and grace of God, not just now, but for all of life and eternity; but we should.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. This is also a great opportunity for each one of us to help his/her neighbor, and be a tangible extension of the love, goodness, and grace of God.

 

 

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Springtime, wake up time for rodents, ants, spiders, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and bugs. I know, spring doesn’t officially begin until March 20th, 9:15 am to be exact. But the above-mentioned critters don’t give a hoot about official anything, nor do they respect boundaries, comfort, property rights, or someone else’s hard work. They do pretty much whatever they want, wherever they want, and whenever they want.  They come by stealth, mass invasion, through the air, underground, at high noon, twilight, and under the cover of night. Relentless I tell you, destructive, unapologetic, and even dangerous.

I want them gone, out of my yard, away from my home, gone. If you want them, if your heart has a soft-spot for them, you can have them, the whole lot. A spider on my bedroom ceiling is not going to get the chance to play cat burglar and lower its multi-eyed self down on my bed in the middle of the night; it is going to get “splat!” The ground squirrels, wood-rats, mice, gophers, moles, voles will not encounter kind mercy; they will be trapped, shot, and poisoned when possible. The wasp eying my steak in its shifty flight will be permanently uninvited. The ants trying to homestead around 10417 Blanchard Road will meet the full brunt of available extermination methods. Not a single mosquito, kissing bug, beg bug, or termite will be tolerated, be invited to take a little sip or take a small bite, nor be merely trapped and released. Flies will be met by swatters, fly-papers, scented traps, and available chemicals; they will never receive permission for fly or stopovers.

Striking, isn’t it, how the first paragraph above could easily describe wicked men and women, mankind in unrestrained sinfulness, and how the second paragraph could easily portray the harsh and merciless measures and attitudes mankind has used against each other.  Is it right to hate wickedness, to yearn for and work toward a world without it? Absolutely, but we have to be careful not to act wicked our own self. Keeping critters and pests out of my house is different from stomping on them when I go on a hike. I can put up screens and seal cracks before getting out the swatter or setting deadly traps.

Of course, there is also the matter of worth. There is no question that even the life of the ground squirrel living under our playhouse and undermining the old trees in my backyard is amazing, regardless of it shamelessly mocking me this morning. However, there is a difference between all men being created equal and in the image of God, and all life being created equal. The first is true the second is unsustainable. So who gets to assign worth? God does, and has, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26 (NIV). I hope you notice that different worth does not mean God doesn’t care about all of his creation, in fact not a single sparrow falls from the sky apart from God or is forgotten by God (Matthew 20:29; Luke 12:6-7). Obviously, for God, there is no tension counting a person as more valuable than a bird. For us, however, there is great tension in managing God’s creation responsibly, daily living and survival, and our own sinfulness.

I imagine that God is vastly more disturbed about the wickedness of mankind, one person treating another, valuing another like a rodent, like a pest than you and I are about actual rodents and pests. God could have responded to our wickedness without mercy but instead, he both reaffirmed our value and his great love for every man and every woman in the cross of Christ. Because of his great mercy and love he “is not slow in keeping his promise (of final judgment and justice on all wickedness), as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV, parenthesis mine). We, the church, followers of Christ, worshippers of the one living God should do no less, at home, in our communities, our countries, our politics, our policies, and our attitudes.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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