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“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT).

When I turned off the engine in the parking lot of Mission San Miguel Arcangel, off Highway 101, the thermometer in my truck read 109 degrees (42.8 Celsius). The heat sucked out the air-conditioned coolness of the cab as soon as we opened the doors. It was only a few steps to the entrance of the mission but the sun still managed to give us a good hard slap before we made it into the shade of the long covered porch. Inside we were greeted not only by very nice lady but by an incredible coolness. 200 years ago, long before the power grid and air-conditioning, or triple pane gas-filled windows they obviously know something about how to build dwellings that stayed cool in the heat.

Even for a construction layman like me a few things were obvious: The several feet thick walls keep cool in and heat out. The porches surrounding the outside and the inside courtyard prevent the sun from directly hitting the walls. The windows are small and few. (I wonder how many people got yelled at for leaving a door open). And of course you can’t build something like that overnight, this is more costly and labor and time intensive than nailing a few sticks of lumber together and covering them with siding and sheetrock.

We also wondered about the criteria for picking the spots of these Missions. One of them was distance between one Mission and the next, but the most crucial criteria was a source of water that could sustain people, livestock, and crops, even scorching and prolonged heat.

Living in Central California we know that the heat will come, the rainfalls will cease for months, rivers will shrivel into trickles or dry out all together, North-winds will blow and bring unbearable heat waves. Life is like that, filled with dry-spells, the unbearable, and that for which we must prepare (if we are wise). God continually tries to direct and equip us so we can not only survive, but thrive, prosper, and stay cool in the heat of life. Central California is an illustration of that too. What looks so dry, scorched, and barren is also home to one of the greatest agricultural marvels when you combine it water, foresight, knowledge, work, and the discipline good farming requires.

In a very real sense every believer in Jesus is called to be a Mission, an outpost, an oasis, but we do not become one unless:

  • We draw a clear line between the godly and the wicked (Psalm 1:1, Jeremiah 17:5-6).
  • Trust and hope in God completely and exclusively (Jeremiah 17:7)
  • Love, know, and implement the word of God (the Bible), the wisdom of God, and the ways and principles of God (Psalm 1:2).
  • Acquire the skills, habits, and strength required to build what lasts and bears fruit (2 Peter 1:1-8)

One last Mission observation, they were large complexes, built for more than just one person but for entire community. They provided shelter, cool, and life for more than “me.”

Stay cool. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Salvation without transformation is misinformation that results in damnation.

If your house has termites how many of them do want to be gone, for how many do you pay the exterminator to get rid off? How much of the termite damage do you want your contractor to fix? I imagine your answers were, “All of the termites and all of the damage.”

If you were to get sprayed by a skunk (and I have), how much of that foul smell does your spouse want you to wash off before coming to bed? I imagine your answer would be, “All of it, and make sure you put on a hefty dose of cologne.”

How much of our sin, our depravity, our moral and spiritual rot and filth do you think God’s grace is trying to address? How deep do you think the grace of God is trying to sink into our hearts and lives? How much does God’s grace want to change in us and about us? The answers to these questions are, “All of it, to my very core, and more than I imagine.”

The grace of God aims to be transforming. There is no way to drink from the cup of God’s grace and be unchanged. If you remain unchanged you haven’t swallowed. As James puts it, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), meaning: you can’t believe in the love, grace, and mercy of God (salvation) and live unchanged.” If the love of Christ has touched us it compels us to love. If our sins are forgiven we should be forgiving. If we have received mercy it should make us merciful. If the joy of God and his salvation has filled us we should be joyful and positive. If the goodness of God is real it should cause us to desire to do good. If the peace of God keeps our hearts and minds we should pursue peace. If we have benefited from the patience of God we should be patient with others. If the selflessness, the obedience, the faithfulness, the kindness, and humility of Jesus has in any way worked in our favor then we ought to embrace the same.

Somehow we are very comfortable with saving grace, who doesn’t want to go heaven? We love the everyday grace of God, the grace that makes the sun rise, the rains fall, puts bread on our tables, and gives us opportunities in life (Matthew 5:45). We don’t complain about delivering grace, healing grace, God-helping-me out grace, that would be foolish. But how quickly we begin to resist transforming grace, when God wants to replace more than a few roof shingles, when he starts scraping off old paint, lays bare the rot, starts messing with our values, our outlooks, our attitudes, the way we react and interact, and puts our motives, our pursuits, and lifestyles on the table.

After following Jesus for almost forty years I still find surrendering to God’s transforming grace most challenging. I am amazed and ashamed how resistant I can be, how many self-deceptive excuses I can conjure up, how quickly I can deflect, and how disobedient I can be. I pray to be like the Apostle Paul, after having an opportunity to tell king Agrippa of his conversion, of the time when the saving grace of Christ met him, quickly added, “So … I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19 NASB). What a statement of surrender to transforming grace.

When it comes to transforming grace we face a triple threat:

  • All of our old scripts, the defaults of our sinful self. O how good they are in pulling us back, helping us to revert, to revel in saving grace while resisting transforming grace.
  • Declaring ourselves changed enough, holy enough. Resting on past progress and viewing ourselves in comparison to others has a way of making us resistant to present obedience.
  • Thinking of grace only in passive terms, God saves me by his grace, God will change me by his grace, and finally God will glorify me his grace. That however is not the whole truth; God’s saving grace compels us to believe, to repent, to confess, God’s glorifying grace is preceded by perseverance, and God’s transforming grace requires our cooperation and obedience.

Read the first sentence again. None of us needs just a little bit of Jesus, a little bit grace, we need all of Christ and all of God’s grace, anything less is self-deception, will make us pull up short of God’s marvelous grace (Hebrews 12:15). On the flipside, there is nothing like being transformed by God’s grace, We all … are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (HCSB).

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

 

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“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NIV).

It was not what he was hoping to hear, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He wanted the fix-it grace, the grace that makes it go away, the grace that makes weakness, pain, and suffering disappear.

“Why others and not me?” The healing, delivering, restoring power of Christ had worked through Paul countless times, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” Acts 19:11-12 (NIV).

If you had to choose between deliverance from pain and strength to cope with pain, which would you prefer? If you have physical limitations or handicaps would want restoration or grace to bear it? If as a parent (since it is Mothers’ Day) are both at the end of your wit and your rope what would you ask for, sufficient grace or fix-it grace? Dumb questions.

Paul did ask for fix-it grace, because there is nothing wrong with asking for healing, deliverance, restoration, and permanent change. Our Heavenly Father has given us the green light to ask away (Matthew 7:7-11, James 1:2-6). Paul didn’t just ask once, but twice, and again. Then he got a clear word, a definite answer from God, “Your thorn in the flesh will stay, your weakness will not be taken away, your pain, struggle, and frustration will not just dissipate, but you will receive sufficient grace, for today, and tomorrow, and every day after that.”

It can knock you for loop, when God grants you sufficient grace when you asked for fix-it grace, when God hears your request but responds to it differently. We see little purpose in pain, suffering, sickness, limitations, handicaps, frustrations, trials that last, and … It is easy to get confused when the God of love for whom nothing is impossible doesn’t fix it and instead hands us the cup filed with sufficient grace. It is tough drinking water while others are sipping champagne.

Many criticized God and Christ and walked away at this intersection of receiving sufficient grace while asking for fix-it grace. But Paul didn’t, after hearing, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” he adjusted himself to Christ’s answer, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV). We’d much prefer for God to adjust himself and acquiesce to our requests than the other way around.

Sufficient grace is never cheap grace; it is not lesser than fix-it grace. When God gives us the cup of sufficient grace it is because that is exactly what we need. Paul recognized that this sufficient grace kept him humble, it kept him much closer to Christ, it made him depend on power far greater than his own, and realized that Christ shines through women and men who embrace and live out of his sufficient grace.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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Parts that do their part – beautiful

At the end of a movie do you linger and watch the credits? I usually don’t, but the few times that I have I was amazed at how many people it takes to make a movie. You need a lot more than just actors, directors, and writers. You need cameramen, makeup artists, bookkeepers, sound people, boom operators, special effects experts, stuntmen, wardrobe designers, set designers, logistics personnel, grunts, lot’s of grunts, electricians, carpenters, caterers, production people, and … No wonder movie making is expensive.

Take a look around, yup, right there wherever you are reading this, and think about all the things you see and how many people had to work together to make them and how many people it took for them to get to you. How many designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, workers, sales people, and … were involved?

Have you ever been wheeled into an operating room and managed to look around before the anesthesiologist told you to count backward from ten, and in my case knocked me out before I got to seven. From what I remember, it is a like beehive in there. Long before my doctor and his team ever got there someone had to get everything clean and ready. He wouldn’t do much operating if he had to do all the cleaning and prepping himself.

Every Christian is meant to serve on Christ’s ministry team from first the day s/he committed her/his life to Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV); it doesn’t matter who you are, where you have come from, or how gifted, educated or skilled you are, from the day a person is born again (John 3:1-21) by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ s/he is a part of the body of Christ, and thus has a function. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” Romans 12:4-11 (NLT).

You won’t be in the movie credits, you won’t be part of any manufacturing team for long, and you won’t stay on the operating room staff if you don’t show up faithfully and if you don’t do what you are responsible for. You will be a mess if your body parts are mere volunteers and not committed members who delight in doing what they are supposed to do for the benefit of all the others. Serving in the body of Christ is much more than volunteering, it is about each part doing what the head, Jesus (Colossians 1:18), wants his body to do, and when Jesus’ body moves as one, doing what he wants, it is a beautiful thing.

So show up, be committed, be dependable, do your part.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Getting a room ready to observe the Passover, borrowing/renting an economy car/donkey, organizing a mass feeding, taking care of the money and the books, delivering letters, taking care of the needs of widows and orphans, using their homes for ministry, hosting guests, helping the needy, cleaning up and dressing a healed lunatic, instructing others in the word of God, help start a church, rowing Jesus around in a boat, participating in church leadership, helping with the worship services, greeting visitors, encouraging others, visiting the sick and imprisoned, organizing and engaging in relief ministries, organizing, music, prayer, … That’s what we find Christians, followers of Jesus doing in the New Testament.

Did you notice what I left out of that list? Yup, the spectacular, the miraculous, the extraordinary things Christians are recorded as doing as well, not that those are unimportant. My point is that all of the above is service and that service is central to the Christian life, the Christian community, the Church and its mission. In Acts 19:11 God was using the Apostle Paul in extraordinary ways (“extraordinary miracles” – I thought miracles were already extraordinary), but in Acts 18:1-4 the same Apostle Paul works for a tent making outfit to support himself for ministry on the weekend. Paul understood something that every believer needs to understand.

  • God had saved him and his life was no longer his own, 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).
  • We are saved from sin to serve, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved… through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV).
  • Every believer is assigned and empowered for service by the Holy Spirit, The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”
    1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NLT)
    “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically”
    Romans 12:4-11 (NLT).

At some point, and hopefully sooner than later, every believer has to go from just showing up regularly (hopefully you have that down) to committing to service, going from consumer to contributor, from flapping your wings at the edge of the nest to jumping off and flying. So this week talk to your pastor and volunteer yourself to service of some kind, either for the first time or because you need to get back into it. There is no glorifying God, no being like Jesus without serving. “For even the Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 (NIV, parenthesis mine).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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Next Sunday, December 4, we will have our annual business meeting. Our Agenda entails the usual items of approving the 2017 Church budget and the election of officers, but this year we are also considering permitting women to be deaconesses. That of course has the potential for conflict because opinions and interpretations of scripture vary widely on that subject. I think it is important for me as your pastor to remind us of some things.

The reasons for why we are looking at this matter this time is that the church leadership structure we adopted in 2013, which consisted of an Official Board made up of only ordained Deacons was not working due to deacons moving, dropping out, and prohibitive work schedules. The Board at most meetings had insufficient numbers to make official decisions, and no deacon trainees were in the pipeline; the polity was too ingrown and was not serving the church well. Thus, we as church charged the Board last year to recommend options and changes. This necessitated the discussion of who is eligible to serve on either a single Board model or a two Board model, and only the church body has the authority to make that decision.

This morning in our church Bible reading, God, through the Apostle Paul, reminded the Corinthians and us, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB, emphasis mine), and, “Let all that you do be done in love” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB). Both scriptures remind me of what I teach at every Membership Seminar:

  • In Essentials (things of first importance) we have Unity.
  • In Non-essentials we have Liberty.
  • In All Things we have Charity.

I have studied the matter in some depth and over the past weeks have asked you to do the same, and invited you to ask questions, talk after the services, call or email me (although few have done so). You can also pick up a small sample of scholarly commentary of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and Romans 16:1-2 illustrating the point that this is both a non-essential and an issue Christians and Christian scholars have come to differing interpretations and opposing conclusions. Permitting women to hold the office of deaconess is not stepping outside the bounds of scripture or heretical. It is an issue that is within the boundaries of Christian liberty, of our church determining church structure and polity. We already have varying opinions and preferences on this subject in our church family and it has not kept us from functioning in harmony and love. So regardless of what we decide, we need to determine to continue with that same harmony and love.

It is also important to remember that deacons are not elders, bishops/overseers, or shepherds/pastors. All three of these terms describe the same office (1Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:17&28) and the qualifications for it are set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9. The office of deacon or deaconess and its qualifications are a recognition that in a church, leadership besides pastoral leadership, is needed (Acts 6:1-7), both to aid the pastor/s and keep the church healthy and growing. All leadership in the church is servant leadership. The very word Deacon is translated servant. The entire church is based on a servanthood model, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” Galatians 5:13 (NASB). Whatever authority the church entrusts to any member is servant authority, anyone who seeks office in the church simply for authority sake should automatically disqualify him/herself.

So, when meet on December 4th what you and I want, prefer, and are used to is not the issue, hopefully we will all the check that at the door and pray as we enter, “Father, fill my sisters and brothers and I with the Holy Spirit and bless us here and now with wisdom, unity, and peace.” When we cast our votes on this and any other matter let’s keep in mind it is not about winning and defeating but about seeking what is best for the church, discerning the will of God as best as we can, and doing so within the parameters of God’s Word and with the love for one another by which all people can see that we are Jesus’ disciples.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 “The time has come,” he (Jesus) said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15 (NIV, parenthesis mine)

“… unless you repent, you too will all perish. Luke 13:3 (NIV)

It didn’t look like it was all that bad, but actually it is worse and getting worser. I am talking about the 1963 Aristocrat LoLiner camp trailer Susie and I are trying to fix up. One corner in the front showed some water damage, but now, that all the siding is off, it is evident that all four corners have water damage. At this point I am wondering if I will ever get the whole thing back together. I am tempted to just make the whole thing a flatbed trailer. I asked Susie if I could simply mount a portable toilet, a barbeque, a couple of outdoor chairs, and leave enough room to pitch a tent. However, I have learned a few things about rot:

  • Rot doesn’t look so bad as long as it is covered up.
  • Just getting to the rot is a lot of work, exhausting.
  • Seeing the full extent of the rot is discouraging.
  • Seeing the rot all exposed makes you wonder if the whole thing is worth it.
  • Figuring out how to fix the rot is overwhelming.
  • Fixing all the rot will take a lot of time, effort, and much more money than it seemed at first.

Of course we are just talking about a 14-foot camping trailer. There is the option to just scrap it or as mentioned turn into a flatbed utility trailer or go with the hillbilly camper option. That, however, isn’t an option when comes to rot in our lives, our families, even the rot in our culture and country. The temptation always is to cover it over, to come up with a quick-fix that doesn’t solve the real problem. A case in point is the left upper corner of the Aristocrat sitting exposed in our driveway. Some time back it rotted to the point it would no longer hold the staples that hold the roofing. The temporary fix was to screw some peg-board like material over the edge and then triple staple to that with longer staples. It obviously held for a good while, but it also allowed the rot to progress. More and longer staples, more screws, and lots more caulking may hold us together for a while longer but it never stops the rot and the eventual collapse.

All of the prophets of God down to Jesus himself preached repentance, “You must deal with the rot!” Not just some of it, but all of it. It is one of the major reasons many don’t care for God, about taking up life with Jesus. To have everything exposed that you have worked so hard to cover up and hold together feels incredible humbling and scary. To give Jesus a shot at rebuilding you and restoring you is long term commitment that goes much deeper than you think at first.

Why give Jesus/God a shot at your rot?

  • No one but Jesus can fix what is at core of all human rot – sin.
  • Jesus was a carpenter; he is very good at doing it right.
  • Jesus is the Son of God; he is able to fix the worst.
  • He cares for and loves you and me more deeply than anyone. He died for our sins, to deliver us from our depravity, to address all that is rotten with and within us.

Now you can pretend that none of this applies to you, go on and staple and caulk some more. But the truth is that you need to repent, to address the rot and sin of your life by letting Jesus Christ in and allowing him to go work.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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