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Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:1-2 (NIV)

Are you obdurate? Not even knowing the definition of the word it didn’t sound good to me.

Merriam-Webster.com defines it: 1. Stubbornly persistent in wrongdoing; hardened in feeling; 2. Resistant to persuasion or softening influences.

Google dictionary lists the following synonyms: stubborn, obstinate, unyielding, unbending, inflexible, intransigent, implacable, pig-headed, bull-headed, stiff-necked, headstrong, willful, unshakeable, unmalleable, intractable, unpersuadable, unrelenting, relentless, immovable, inexorable, uncompromising, hard, stony, iron-willed, adamant, firm, fixed, determined.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary (CWD) translates the Greek word skleruno as: To make hard or stiff, make obdurate, and adds that in the New Testament it is applied only figuratively to the heart and mind.

The writer of the NT letter to the Hebrews, quoting from Psalm 95:8-10 warns four times (Hebrews 3:8, 13, 15; 4:7; NASB, parenthesis mine):

“Do not harden your hearts.”

 “Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

“Today if you hear his (God’s) voice, do not harden your hearts.”   

“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

What both the Psalmist and writer of Hebrews refer to is an event (Exodus 17:1-7) of the generation of Israelites Moses led out of Egyptian slavery to go into the “Promised Land.” Except they never did make it into the land God had promised them but instead, because of the hardness of their hearts, wandered around in and died on Sinai peninsula for the next forty years. What we should learn from them is that we cannot come to God with a hard heart nor can we walk with God with a hard heart. A hard heart will keep us from God, from relying on his power and goodness, from entering into his promises and eternal rest. A hard heart will make us disobedient, resistant to God (Acts 19:9), and it will cause us to underestimate or be blind to the deception of sin (Hebrews 3:13). Our own hard heart becomes be rock we stumble over, a rock that will keep us from “the rock of our salvation.”

So, how obdurate is that heart of yours? What excuses have you come up with to let it remain hard? And, how well is that hard heart serving you in trusting and following God, in your relationships with those around you?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote)

Coming back from a week of camping we drove past the heliport on the Lake Don Pedro dam. The Medi-Flight chopper, ambulance, and fire truck were all there. I found out later they were airlifting out a young person in dire condition. I am sure that for her family the day turned out nothing like they thought it would.

I made three visits (pastoral calls) on Tuesday. The first, to see a man who lost his wife of many years. The second, to see a lady who is dying and her husband who is taking care of her. The third, to see a man who’d just come back from a stint in the hospital. Things have not turned out like they hoped they would. All their plans and hopes have been interrupted, changed, permanently, and uninvited.

We know life is fragile, that it can turn on a dime, be completely altered in a split second, tear our hearts out, pay no attention to our plans, demolish our dreams, assign us paths we do not want to travel, and dish us up with more sorrow grief than we can bear. We long for permanence, for unchanging ground, but our reality is we live on the ever-shifting sand of a beach constantly moving in the daily ebb and flow, subject to sunshine and rain, gentle breezes and hurricane winds.

Susie and I pay for health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, life insurance (Which is really death insurance since it doesn’t kick in unless you die. But I suppose calling it that is not good for marketing), and maybe soon long-term care insurance. The hope is that we will not have to file claims, but the reality is that except for the life insurance we have had to use them all and were glad and grateful that we were insured because otherwise, things would have been even worse, and we would be flat broke. But none of these insurance policies have protected us from tragedy, from chaos, having to change our plans, from having to adapt and cope.

Wise women and men work hard at finding and embracing the truths, laws, principles, and ways that create the most stability, promote peace, and bring blessing. They also live without any illusions of being exempt from mortality and the unpredictability of life. And, they embrace God, who is permanent – eternal, unchanging – immutable, and perfect – holy. He alone can make eternal guarantees and sure promises. Only he can change the impermanent and mortal into the everlasting. No one else can save us from our human dilemmas, satisfy our thirst for permanence, and anchor our souls now and forever. Hear and respond to the words of Jesus, the Son of God, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30):

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (NLT2)

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth… And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT2)

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. John 11:25-26 (NLT2)           

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

“Daddy’ll fix it!” But it doesn’t take much to put Dad in the company of the king’s horses and men. There are toys no amount duct tape or super glue will fix. Worse yet, is the belly-up goldfish from the fair, the feet to the sky parakeet, or the rigamortised hamster.  Some things are beyond fixing, a hopeless mess.

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT2).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” Romans 15:13 (NIV).

It is one of the most puzzling questions and source of great frustration why our Heavenly Father, God Almighty, who can heal the lame, deliver the possessed, and raise the dead, doesn’t fix it all? Why does the God of hope, the one who tells us to hold hope as core value and virtue, why does he expose us to the pain of hopelessness and doesn’t prevent the brokenness in first place? Many have crashed on the cliffs of this conundrum, declaring that God is either impotent or unloving or both and as such he is less than he claims, an imposter, a farce. And once someone has gone down that path and accepted these conclusions the claim that we do not understand all of God’s ways, that they are higher than our intellect allows rings double hollow, unacceptable. This, of course, has at least one problem. It requires God to be higher, better, mightier than we are in order to be God but he has to prove himself to be such according to our assessment. If God is really God, and he is, then by his very essence, his very nature his thoughts and ways are far beyond ours, that is not a cheap cop-out but just reality.

However, the reality that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), all-wise, just, good, holy, righteous, and loving in all he does does not anesthetize all of our pain, clear up all of our whys, insulate us from frustration, or keep us from all anger. It certainly has not done so for me. But it does give us hope, both for the future and for today.

Hope is a powerful thing, even the tiniest sliver of it. That is why it is easily exploited, why false hope sells, gets votes, and finds easy prey. Hope keeps looking for a good outcome, for healing, restoration, reconciliation, peace, family, freedom, success, prosperity, justice, and love. The greater the absence of these and the darkness and pain of this absence the more we are willing to cling to the thinnest, most fragile branch of hope. Have you ever witnessed or experienced that last sliver of hope fading away, that fragile twig snap, and the dissolution, the numbness, the resignation, the depression, darkness, and hopelessness that follows? It is a gut-wrenching thing. There is, however, a hope that “does not disappoint” in spite of suffering, affliction, tribulation, trials, and hardship experienced for a long, maybe life-long, time (Romans 5:1-11).

The hope that “does not disappoint” has to encompass more than our present circumstances, although it does not belittle them. It begins with the reality that Humpty Dumpty is not the only one who fell and will fall off the wall, we will too. Real hope has to be able to conquer not just hardship and suffering but also death, it has to be anchored in more than a circumstance but in eternity. Real, eternal, hope is rooted in:

  • The reality of God and that he can be completely trusted. None who trust him will be disappointed (Psalm 22:4-5, Hebrews 11:6).
  • The life and work of Jesus Christ who conquered sin and death who alone can make promises beyond the grave (John 11:23-26).
  • The Spirit of God who indwells all who trust God and believe in Christ and who is both God’s eternal guarantee and our enabler (1:10-14).

It is a grievous character flaw for Christians not to be hopeful. It is a terrible sin to claim hope for our Humpty Dumpty and then dam it up to frolic in it ourselves, instead funneling it wherever hope is needed. One major measure of Christian maturity is how good we are at being hopeful, hope-rs. So how good are we at it? Are we getting better at? How are we responding to the darkness, the evil, the pain, and the hopelessness we see around us? To what extent is the hope poured out in hearts flowing out of us? And why would we want to just trickle it?

Hope alongside faith and love will endure eternally, heaven will be filled with them. But, we are to live them presently; they are needed now and for all time and eternity, even Humpty Dumpty knows that.

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

 

 

 

 

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Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT2)

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (NLT2)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT2)

Would you let a doctor in whom you had no faith in and did not trust operate on you? You can go ahead but I won’t, no way.  S/he can snip away on you but I won’t let that scalpel touch me. Misplaced faith never works out well and can be flat out dangerous. Who and what you put your faith in, believe in, trust in makes a big difference in all areas of life, but, because of the eternal ramifications, none more so than in the spiritual life.

Some believe the earth is flat, some believe it to be center of the universe, some believe the holocaust never happened, some believe there is no climate change, and some believe there is no God in whom and through who and for whom all things exist (Revelation 4:11, Hebrews 2:10). But just because some or you and me believe something does not make it so.

Christians are believers in Jesus Christ, God incarnate (in the flesh). We trust him more than anyone else in all matters of this life and eternal life. Thus faith is indispensable for today and for eternity; it will forever be a central part of living in a relationship with God/Christ.  It is neither a misplaced nor a completely blind faith. It is not misplaced because God and Christ really do exist and it is not totally blind because all of the universe, our conscience, Jesus Christ and Spirit of God all testify of his existence, greatness, power, and necessity.

It is impossible to write anything exhaustive about faith in one short pastor’s note, but I want to highlight three that are at the core of Christian faith:

  1. Relationship

We believe it is possible to live in a relationship with God through faith in his Son Jesus Christ. Sinners can be forgiven and be reconciled to God through the person, power, and cross of Christ. God is not an abstract, not a mere religious construct, but real and loving, so much so Holy God made a way for unholy people like you and me to be in an eternal relationship with him.

  1. Revelation

We believe we can trust the promises, principles, laws, and words of God revealed through the Spirit of God and the ultimate revelation of God – Jesus Christ. We believe in, trust in, and follow what he says and shows us.

  1. Right living

We believe in pleasing God through our actions. We have faith in the goodness of God and that in his goodness he means to transform us to live and act more like Jesus, to love ever more selflessly. We believe with James (James 2:17, 26, and entire letter) that real faith shows up in real life, making a difference in how we respond to trials, how we treat people, what comes out of our mouths, how we plan and do business, how we pray, and how we live in community with each other (and much more).

Not going to the doctor when you need one is a bad idea. Putting your trust in an incompetent doctor is not wise. Dismissing all doctors because some are lousy is foolish. Likewise, denying your need for God is a bad idea. Declaring all religion and spirituality equal is not wise. Dismissing God because of religious abuses is foolish (although at times understandable). The eternal God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has never ceased to be holy, awesome, great, just, faithful, good, and loving. He is worthy of our complete faith in him, we can trust him completely, none who follow him will be led astray, and all who believe in him will be glad.

Put your faith in Jesus. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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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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“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27 (NLT)

They were blocking the road, five tom turkeys strutting their stuff with all their might, oblivious to the world around them. My very noisy Dodge diesel pickup had absolutely no effect on them. They were dragging their wings, spreading their tail feathers, inflating their necks, and executed fancy dance patterns. I looked around to see what all the fuss was about, and there in the dry weeds on the side of the road was the scraggliest turkey hen I had ever seen. Obviously those five males were bunch of frustrated jakes (young males) who had lost out on the whole spring mating thing but had spotted themselves a lonely jenny, which compelled them to pull out all of the stops.

I don’t know if any of them inspired the homely hen enough to win the prize because after about five minutes they decided to move off the road and danced their way into the bushes. However, it seems to me those five boys were clearly worried that they were going to be this year’s mating season losers. And since gobblers are not native to Palestine Jesus must not have been talking about turkeys.

Jesus, however, did specifically talk about ravens and sparrows (Matthew 10:29). We only have the occasional raven around our place, but we do have a resident pack of their cousins, crows. They really are gang, they love to harass other birds, fly around with their souped-up sound systems cranked up, doing all kinds of aerial acrobatics, looking for mischief, and when they have found it they fly off laughing away. They, unlike those strutting jakes, have carefreeness stamped all over them. “Turning to his disciples, Jesus said, ‘That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?’ … ‘Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need’” Luke 12:22-26, 31 (NLT).

Freedom from worry, freedom from fear are some of the great benefits that come with trusting God, walking with Jesus, concerning ourselves with the kingdom of God – the eternally valuable and important instead of mere survival. So, how are you doing with fear and worry? Are you more likely to resemble a desperate tom turkey afraid of losing out on life, franticly strutting your stuff, oblivious to the world around you, unaware of the goodness of God, the power of God, and the calling of God to higher things?

Those carefree crows look rather plain; they can’t compete with the dazzling plumage of a dressed up tom turkey. But watch them fly, hear them laugh, see the sparkle in their eyes. The more we are about stuff and strutting the less carefree we will be, the more we will be tied to the fleeting, the less we live by faith, and we will we spend more time on the ground worrying than in the air worshipping.

Consider the birds.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

P.S. If you have children, go to our church’s website and sign them up for VBS (Vacation Bible School) and/or camp.

 

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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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