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For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 (NIV)

If you are reading this pastor’s note it is safe to assume you awoke this morning. You also learned how to read sometime back, most likely because someone taught you. This means you have lived long enough to acquire the skill of reading and I am certain a few others as well. It also means you have had some opportunities, maybe many, and you will have more opportunities today. You also could have chosen not to read this p-note, but you didn’t (which makes me glad); no, you decided to read it, to give dergremanshepherd (the German Shepherd) a small voice in your life today. You have made lots of decisions like that throughout your life, and many of vastly more significance, and you will make more today.

The story of your and my life is a story of receiving, from its very inception until now, and it will remain so until the very end. It doesn’t matter whether we think we have received the short end of the stick, gotten the shaft, were born into bad circumstances, have suffered from injustice, are trapped in poverty, had few good breaks in life, … The very fact we are breathing today, that we have opportunities to make choices today, even if they seem limited, verifies that every single day we have opened our eyes we have received. This means that someone gave, someone was gracious to us, and none more so than God, than Jesus Christ, For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

The truth is there is no one who comes close to having given us as much as God, as Jesus has; there isn’t anybody from whom we have received more. You would think the whole world would line up each day to say, “Thank you,” to brag about the goodness and graciousness of God. So, have you? And have you accepted from God the gift he thinks you need the most, his son, Jesus Christ? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16 (NIV). You and I need Jesus Christ because we not only need daily grace to survive in the temporal, but we need God’s grace even more for the eternal, in fact we are completely dependent on it.

All this receiving equips us and ought to transform us into givers. Many of you reading this p-note went to work today. One of the great things about work is getting paid (Can I get an “Amen!”), and one of the great things of getting paid is that it enables a receiver to be a giver, In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” Acts 20:35 (NIV). Let’s do that today, turn our receiving into giving, turn our receiving into thanksgiving and praise to God and Christ. Let’s not stop with today, let’s turn it into a lifestyle, like God who has been giving to us all our life.

To God be all glory. Merry Christmas, 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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Our entire lives we are always going “though it.” You are going “through it” right now, just like you were going “through it” yesterday, and as sure as you will go “through it” tomorrow, whatever your “through it” might be. It is impossible to escape “going through it.”

Before one “through it” ends one or more “through its” have already started, like just when childhood ends puberty is already beginning. Many, many “though its” come our way without ever asking for permission to enter our lives, others are the results of our own choices, both wise and foolish.

Some “through its” we don’t mind, the comfortable ones, those without worries, where you laugh lot, feel good, and things are going great. We would like for those “through its” to last, to be the normal. We do so because we all too familiar with the other kind of “through its”, the kind we loathe, dread, hate, that keep us from what we really would love to go “through.” Those “through its” bend life with pain, grief, fear, suffering, burdens, worry, sins and evils of all kinds. Those “through its” love to show up far more often and stick around much longer than we want them to. In fact, they are good in making us wonder if are ever going to make it “through them,” and at times whether or not we are going to make it “through them” at all, like the Apostle Paul, We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it” 2 Corinthians 1:8 (NLT).

Since we can’t avoid “going through it,” it makes a big difference how we go through the highs and the lows, the joys and sorrows, the good and the bad, the mundane and the thrilling, the unbearable and the delights life has us “go through.” It makes a big difference if faith in the one true and living God marks our life or not. It makes a big difference whether or not we take our cues from Jesus whatever we “go through.” It makes a big difference we see no purpose behind that which we’d rather not “go through.”

Followers of Christ, Christians, are not exempt from the “go-throughs” of life. In fact being committed to Jesus will have you go through things you would not naturally chose to go through and top of the regular “go-throughs.” In all of that “going through,” the goal of the believer is never just to get “through it,” but live out the will of God to the glory of God and to the exaltation of Christ in all that God allows us, prompts, and calls us to “go through.” The Christian is never devoid of purpose in the “going through” of life, nor are God’s children ever alone in whatever we are going “through.”

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Romans 8:28-31 (NLT)

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26 (ESV)

There’s no getting away from “going through it,” but we do get to chose how and with whom we go through it.

 

To God be all glory. Love you, fellow “goer-througher, Pastor Hans

 

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God’s Servant for Life. Sustaining Servanthood.

“… my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house” Numbers 12:7 (NIV)

A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ …” 1 Corinthians 4:1 (HCSB)

Long after the last rains, when all the ponds, streams, and even rivers have dried up, when dust devil swirl across the landscape, and when you can’t imagine anything aquatic living there, the African Lungfish is waiting for the next downpour, maybe right under your feet. In a dried out mud burrow and cocoon that only leaves the mouth exposed it can survive for years in a hibernation known as aestivation (state of suspended animation) – amazing.

Obviously you and I are not lungfish, a happy fact I might add. But that doesn’t mean we have no need to learn how to sustain important things. The African Lungfish sustains its life by going underground, slowing every bodily function down to slow crawl, not moving, and living of its tail. I don’t find any of that appealing either, do you? So how do servants of God sustain themselves, make it through droughts in life, survive in unbearable heat, pressures, and circumstances? How do we maintain a servant’s heart, attitude, devotion, and involvement in spite of people? How do we keep from burrowing under the surface, disappearing out of sight, shutting down to the barest minimum, being content with mere survival until the day Jesus returns?

We can learn much from Moses, whom God called, “his servant,” when it comes to sustaining ourselves as servants of God. Moses actually tried the lungfish disappearing act for a long time, until God reminded him, that he belonged to him and that he was born, built, and beckoned to serve God’s purposes (Exodus 3-4). After Moses surrendered himself to serve God we find him being a faithful, committed servant down to his last breath. So what sustained him as servant of God?

  • Moses was faithful to the word of God.

He spoke what God wanted him to say, he carried out what God told him to do, and he did so (with one recorded exception, Numbers 20:8-13) for 40 straight years. He took every communication from God serious and dared to practice it. God told Joshua, Moses’ successor and the one who observed Moses closer than anyone, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” Joshua 1:7 (NIV)

 

  • Moses was faithful to the people of God.

He was committed to the community of God (read church in today’s context). Even when people hurt him, complained about him, made life miserable for him, bitterly disappointed him he stayed committed to them. He didn’t check out, leave, or went off to do his own private thing. Even when God offered to completely start over with him he declined, Exodus 32:10. He lived and died with God’s people.

 

  • Moses was faithful to the presence of God.

He sought communion with God. Prayer, worship, sacrifice, singing to God, spending time with God, hearing the voice of God was important to him. He even pitched a tent outside of Israelite camp for the sole purpose to seek the presence of God, and invited anyone to join him there, Exodus 33:7 (too few took him up on the invite)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Want to do something that is really good for you? Practice kindness, “A man (person) who is kind benefits himself but a cruel man hurts himself” Proverbs 11:17 (ESV, parenthesis mine.)

Anything make you grumpy? Susie’s dog continually chewing up irrigation lines instantly wakens my inner grump. Somebody treating me like I don’t have a brain has their finger on my grumpy switch. Whining, constant negativity, laziness, stupidity, action-less complaining creates this fast spinning, downward sucking whirl, at the bottom of which my inner grump dwells. Just thinking about what makes me grumpy makes me grumpy. I wish my list was shorter.

The absence of kindness, grumpiness unchecked and excused, is the dance floor of cruelty. Cruel words, cruel intentions, cruel actions, and cruel laws execute fancy choreography dressed in self-righteous clothes, hollow justifications, damning humor, cutting sarcasm, intellectual hubris, and stubborn ignorance. It is a short and crowded walk from grumpiness to cruelty.

Kindness contains mercy and mercy is never without kindness, they benefit both the giver and the recipient, in other words they are always a win win proposition. On the other hand no one really benefits from grumpiness and cruelty, they always injure everybody. This is why Jesus and the scriptures unequivocally and uncompromisingly tell us, encourage us, and command us to unilaterally practice kindness and mercy (Galatians 5:22; 2 Peter 1:7; Matthew 5:&; 2 Timothy 2:24; Proverbs 3:3, 19:22). We are to practice kindness not merely in response to kindness coming our way, no, we are to be kind and merciful (Ephesians 4:32) and have kindness and mercy mark all of our actions, be our normal response. It is the only way to disarm grumpiness and cruelty whenever and wherever they invite us to dance with them.

A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself” Proverbs 11:17 (ESV). I read it this morning, right before I walked outside to feed the dogs, and yep, he did it again, not only did he do a number on the irrigation, he also tore up the obviously inadequate protective fencing I installed just two days ago. My inner GRUMP was awake in a flash. Good thing for Walter, aka “Butt-Head,” “Nerd of the Nation,” that God had me read that particular scripture before opening the front door, otherwise he might have gone to “doggy hell” instead of just the “dog house.” I wish all of my grumpy episodes were this benign, that all of my temptations to be cruel had pinned back ears and a saggy butt with a wagging tail and a pitiful look. But they don’t, and neither do yours. It is when we feel unkind, when we feel justified to be cruel, merciless, and harsh that we need to choose what is best over what seems to feel good at the moment.

Have you had to live with grump, or work next to grump day after day? Man, that’s taxing. There is nothing pleasant about the stench and constant ooze of the puss of unkindness continually threatening to become a full-blown infection. How do we maintain kindness there?

  • By continually reminding ourselves of how beneficial and right kindness is and feels.
  • Seeing the self-inflicted wounds of those who are unkind and cruel, and refusing to wound ourselves.
  • Remembering the principle that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7), kindness grows kindness.
  • Always looking to Jesus and the way he responded to unkindness and cruelty, For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly” 1 Peter 2:21-23 (NLT). Jesus conquered the very power sin and hell with kindness and mercy.

So today, tomorrow, and every day, do something super beneficial for you, be kind! “Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation” Proverbs 3:3-4 (NLT).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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