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Archive for the ‘spiritual growth’ Category

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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“A man/woman must examine him/herself” 1 Corinthians 11:28.

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith” 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT).

Do you know someone who is good at dishing it out but is terrible at receiving it? Who is great at making fun of others but without humor and super sensitive when s/he is made fun of? Are you quick to criticize others but overly sensitive when you are put under the lens? Well, this pastor’s note meant to turn the spotlight right on you; not by me, however, but by your very own self.

In both his letters to the Corinthian believers/church the Apostle Paul told them to take a close look, to examine, to test, to judge themselves and the genuineness of their faith.

  • The first time was in regard to the observance of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. They had made it something that it was not, more of church potluck than a remembrance of Jesus’ death. And some were acting snobbish on top of that, lavishly indulging themselves with a select few while others went hungry. Paul reminded them that the Lord’s Supper has nothing to do with filling your stomach, but that is everything to do with a serious and genuine relationship with Christ. You don’t prepare for Communion in the kitchen but rather by examining yourself, checking on how it is between you and Christ, between you and the other members of Christ’s body, between you and your neighbor. You have to look into your own heart, at your recent behavior and decisions, your commitments, your spiritual flavor (saltiness – Matthew 5:13), your spiritual temperature (Revelation 3:15-22). The goal of this kind of self-examination is to set right whatever isn’t because Christ who died for us, the love he has shown, the mercy and grace he poured out deserves nothing less.

Obviously a good number of the Corinthian Christians were not in the habit of examining themselves like that, having a party with those they                  liked was much more important them. God didn’t let them slide; to him the death of his Son Jesus Christ and Christ-honoring behavior are very            serious matters and he promptly and severely disciplined a number of them including with sickness and even death. Wow! That kind of                            seriousness might empty a church – literally.

  • The second time Paul told the Corinthian Christians to examine, to test themselves was in regard to the genuineness of their faith; notice, not the sincerity of their faith but the genuineness, because you can sincerely believe something and yet be dead wrong, and what and who you believe will direct your life.

The issue here was that there have always been those who want to use God for their own ends, change the heart of the Gospel, highjack the                       church, and use scripture as means to support their own preferences, desires, and agendas. In order for them to be successful they have to                       discredit genuine leaders and examples of the faith, in this case Paul, who founded the Corinthian church, and apostolic doctrine.

It seems these usurpers were having a measure of success and were leading people astray. Interestingly Paul not only defends his apostleship and          the genuineness of his own faith, but he also asks the Corinthians (whom loves and deeply cares about) to examine their own faith. In a sense he            asked them to do a faith quality control. The goal of this kind of self-examination is about maintaining a high standard, living and discerning out            of our core beliefs, and continuing in and excelling with what is right and good.

The kind of continuing self-examination the Apostle Paul encourages every believer in Christ to practice has real benefits:

  1. It keeps our relationship with Jesus on track and real.
  2. It helps us to relate to in harmony and unity with other believers and treat all people with Christlikeness.
  3. It enables us to grow spiritually and as a person by being brutally honest with ourselves and dealing with stuff we need to deal with.
  4. It helps us to maintain our core beliefs (the faith) in the middle of the pressures of life, spiritual attacks, evil, and constant changes.

Ready to turn that spotlight on yourself?

To God be all glory, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be all glory. Love you Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Who would you trust with to cut on you with a scalpel? Would you trust me with operating on you? If you did, it would be utter foolishness, since I have had zero medical training, I have never been taught how to yield a scalpel, nor have I ever practice the use of one. Chances are high that if you let me lose on you, you will be severely injured, you will end up scarred, maimed, and handicapped, with a very high probability of you dying.

If something needs to be sewed around the Frei household, it will be Susie doing the sowing. Why? Because she’s acquired sowing skills. Anything I’d sow you would either quietly smile at or outright burst into laughter. On the other hand, when it comes to working on our cars I have more skill and practice than she does. If she started wrenching she might make things worse.

Paul reminded the young preacher Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB). The word “accurately” can also translated correctly or skillfully, as in cutting something straight, building something plumb, plowing in straight lines. The Apostle Paul was keenly aware that mishandling the word of God, the scriptures, the Bible, can greatly injure people or make the truth laughable. He understood the scriptures to be sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), cognizant that, “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” Hebrews 4:12 (NIV). He wanted Timothy to not forget that the Bible is designed to work deeply within the human heart, mind, and soul and therefore needs to be handle with skill, with care, and with precision, none of which are acquired by just inspiration but by diligence, study, and practice.

Traveling over the three continents the past three weeks I was deeply grieved over how much careless, lazy, manipulative, and crooked preaching and teaching I encountered. I was struck again how little discernment listeners in churches showed; how many mistake charisma, hype, slogans, emotional engagement and personal agreement, with truth, sound teaching and preaching, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. My heart weeps for those who are being used, abused, wounded, misled, and made dependent by careless, deceptive, and unskilled handling of God’s word by those, preachers and teachers, who have been tasked to bless, correct, equip, strengthen, and liberate people with God’s word. And as God would have it I found myself reading the pastoral epistles (1&2 Timothy, Titus) while traveling, being reminded of my own responsibility to accurately, diligently, carefully, skillfully, and faithfully preach and teach the written word of God.

How good are you in discerning good biblical preaching and teaching from lousy, shallow, manipulative, and outright deceptive preaching and teaching? How do you learn to discern the difference? You have to read things for yourself, you need to learn basic principles of solid biblical interpretation (biblical hermeneutics) yourself. I encourage you to be more careful as to whom you give permission to yield the scalpel of the word of God than you are picking the surgeon operating on your body, because the consequences are greater.

To finish this pastor’s note let me tell you about Ray, Hans, and Tom and operating a chainsaw. I loved Ray, but I didn’t come anywhere near him when was operating a chainsaw, he was downright dangerous to himself and anyone around with a chainsaw in his hand. I was aware of the dangers because I have learned to operate a chainsaw correctly, in fact I have gained some decent chainsaw skills. However, my chainsaw skills are nowhere near Tom’s. So, there have been times I called on him to help me because I knew I needed his skills or else endanger myself and others. Right now, you might be a Ray when it comes to accurately handling the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and you might never become as skilled as Tom, but you can acquire enough skill to be like Hans enabling you to discern dangerous preaching and teaching from trustworthy and outstanding preaching and teaching; what to stay away from and what to embrace; whom to dismiss and whom to trust.

To God be all glory, 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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