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 Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise:
“Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!”
Proverbs 31:28-29 (MSG)

 She, my Mama, must have read them in the bathroom; not the restroom, which was a separate little room, and anyway, she wasn’t into porcelain throne scholarship like some in our family were. The bathroom was the bathroom and laundry room. A bathtub (no shower) under the high up window where we got a weekly bath, next to the tub a sink with a mirrored cabinet you didn’t mess with, a washing machine to the right of the sink, two hanging cabinets filled with towels and washrags on the opposite wall, and two cloth hampers under those cabinets, one just for my dad’s clothes and the other for everyone else. You never wanted to open Dad’s hamper because the mixture of cigarette smoke and the stink of his socks was downright toxic. Anyway, my Mama spent a lot of time in that bathroom, not fixing herself up, but taking care of us.

I didn’t find out that she also read in the bathroom, most likely while doing laundry, until I got tall enough to reach the towel cabinets. I thought I had discovered a secret stash of forbidden literature hidden under the stack of towels on the top shelf inside. But they turned out to be boring magazines and pamphlets about parenting. I have no idea where she got them from, but they were worn from multiple readings.

I also know that Mama prayed in that bathroom, long after I had left home she told me so. I don’t think it was just ordinary prayer that happened in there, I think she languished in prayer while the washing machine went through its cycles. She knew we wouldn’t bother her while washing clothes because if you did you most likely got stuck having to help her hanging them up to dry. And we needed prayer, all five of us, and Dad as well. So, our dirty boys’ bodies got washed in there, our clothes got washed, and our souls and lives were taken before the one who could keep us and cleanse us from sin. And we could not have cared less about all three of these, except latter two when we started liking girls and clean bodies and clothes somehow became a lot more important.

I don’t know why I ended up with a great and godly Mama? I do know she was one of God’s greatest gifts in my life. But I also know she wasn’t just an accidental great and godly Mama. Great and godly rarely if ever just happen. Mama loved us in the little bathroom maybe more than anywhere else. Love, Learning, Languishing Prayer still spills out of the memory of my Mama in that bathroom, her commitment to these three shaped both her and us, her boys. How I thank God for her, and how I thank her.

Happy Mother’s Day, Pastor Hans

 

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Lord Jesus Christ,

Son of God, Creator, Sustainer, Savior, High Priest forever, Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world, Redeemer, Friend of sinners, head of the church, your very body and bride.

We, as a local representation of your body, your flock, your fellowship, your family,  your church lift up your name, worship you, and give thanks for you to God the Father, for who you are, what you are, and what you have done.

We thank you for loving us when we were unlovable, enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins, without hope, without merit, lost and condemned.

We stand amazed that you would seek for us, come to us, offer us your very life; extend to us mercy and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, salvation and eternal life.

We marvel that you would pour out the Holy Spirit on us, entrust the Gospel to us, and consider and call us to be your body, your representation, your presence in this world in our time.

Lord, today, as the Lake Don Pedro Baptist church we pray for your harvest here where you have placed us. We are struggling to bring it in. Show us what we are missing, where we are lacking. Multiply the harvest workers. Forgive us where we have been slack, lazy, preoccupied, and unwilling.

Lord, this year teach us about payer. Prayer that is larger than our daily needs, deeper than our concerns for health, safety, comfort and good times. Teach us about prayer that enters the battle against temptation, the unmovable, the demonic, evil and the evil one. Teach us to love and pray for more than our friends and families – but our enemies. Teach us how to ask for more according to your will. Teach us how to pray in power and faith.

Lord, we want to be pleasing to you. So please, show us where and with what we are not accountable, where we are putting our own interests before yours, where we are uncommitted to that which you want us to commit to, where we are unconcerned where your heart breaks, where we are proud instead of humble, where we are selective in the application of your word, and where we resist and grieve the Holy Spirit.

Lord, you challenged us to be childlike in our faith, to be harmless and wise at the same time, to care about sinners, peace, justice, mercy, the lost, the displaced, the outcasts, those not like us, even the very least of humanity. Give us the heart, the will, long-term obedience to engage ourselves, to get dirty, to be worn out, poured out, and used for your glory and kingdom.

Lord, you told us to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross and follow you, to love you more than father and mother, children, friends, and country, to be radical in dealing with our sin and be patient with the sins of others, to go into and live in this world, in Don Pedro, Greely Hill, Coulterville, and La Grange like you did Jesus, and there to make disciples. We again commit ourselves to all of these, asking you for the strength, the power, and perseverance they require.

Lord Jesus, we love you, we love belonging to you, being led by you, and being your church, together here in this place. You alone are worthy, O Lord, to receive blessing, honor, power, and glory.

Amen

 

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 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. Romans 14:12 (NLT)

“… 22, 23, 24, 25 – Ready or not here I come!”

“No fair! You counted too fast. You have to start over, and no cheating this time!”

It would be nice if the beginning of each new year would be more than an arbitrary line, if it would be a real do-over, a fresh start. But it usually comes, “ready or not.” Life seems to count at its own pace, and things we were not ready for last year have a way of continuing into the next.

There are so many twists, turns, temptations, events, circumstances, consequences, and reactions we are not ready for. It seems, it feels unfair. We should get more time to get ready, life shouldn’t be allowed to come at us “ready or not,” and why are we accountable for what we are not ready?

They were some of the greatest days of my life, and in my ignorance, I thought I was ready the day I got married, the moments my children were born. I really wasn’t, I had no idea how much was involved in being married for life, in raising incredible, fragile little people, and yet I was fully responsible, fully accountable, “ready or not.”

I wasn’t ready for the most terrible days either, all the dying, tragedy, craziness, unfairness, and …, I didn’t wish for and often prayed against. But they came, often in bunches, certainly regardless of whether I was ready.  Accountability didn’t take a break or give me a break there either, it holds me responsible for how I handle, how I respond to all.

Most of us would like to postpone old age and prolong other life stages, but they too come and go “ready or not,” and we are fully accountable how we handle and live through each one of them, no excuses, no mitigating circumstances.

It’s humbling, sometimes humiliating, often disturbing, the “ready or not” aspect of life, and it is daunting that I am, we are, fully responsible, completely accountable for it. This has caused me to pray more, to seek, worship, and thank God in everything. He is the only one whom life doesn’t catch unprepared, not ready. He knows how to navigate, how to help me, how to get it right even when I am not ready. I also read God’s word, the Bible, constantly in search of eternal wisdom and daily habits that will help me with what I am responsible for. I have also looked for models, for godly women and men who navigate life with Christlikeness. I have found it beneficial to be involved in selfless engagement of some kind, some way of serving God, of serving others, to be engaged with others’ “ready or not.”

To God be all glory, “Ready or not.” Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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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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I have double confession to make: 1. I am not good at giving gifts. I love to help, be generous, but gift-giving is not my spiritual gift. 2. I am not very good at receiving gifts either, a weakness for sure. I am way too German/Schwaebisch, which means I am terrible with “Kitsch,” useless, knick-knack, cheap stuff. When it comes to gifts the running joke and question in my family is whether I am going to take things back and exchange them. I am slowly improving, thanks to intensive tutoring by Susie (my wife, who is super good at the gift and receiving of gifts thing), but progress has been very slow.

Christmas is about giving and receiving, specifically God giving and us receiving. Above anything else, this Christmas would you think about, contemplate God giving us the ultimate gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) and your response to this gift of Jesus Christ.

However, before reflecting on God’s “indescribable gift,” Jesus Christ, think about everything else you have received from God. Let’s start from the very beginning. Your life, your first heartbeat, your first breath, all the way to this present moment is a gift from God. Your ability to laugh, cry, feel, do good, think, and chose, are all things God gave to you and me. The characteristics that make you you and me me, whether it is our tenacity, courage, boldness, tenderness, kindness, intelligence, handiness, …, are from God as well. The “lucky breaks,” the opportunities, the things you survived, can also be traced back to the giving heart of God. The fact is you and I have received from God all our lives, from the very beginning until now. It makes no difference whether you acknowledge this fact or sneer at it, it still stands as the truth; the only difference is that acknowledging it will make you grateful and not doing so will render you ungrateful, acknowledging it will cause you to have an increasing sense of responsibility towards God, disavowing it will cause you to be blind in your responsibility towards God. It is not a matter of whether you have received from God all your life but whether your life expresses your gratitude towards God.

Esau (Genesis 25-27, 25:34, 27:38) was born before his twin brother Jacob, which, in his ancient culture, meant he also got the significant firstborn rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately, he could have cared less about these gifts from God (admittedly, it is often hard to think of responsibilities as gifts), so in a careless moment he literally sold his birthright for a pot of stew, for mere pocket change. And he regretted it bitterly when it was too late. How grateful and careful are you for and with all God has given you up to this point in your life?

Esau is not in lonely company when it comes to being ungrateful for what God gave him, being careless with what God entrusted to him, shirking the responsibilities God handed to him. He is not the only sinner, the only one who has blown it, the only one who exchanged God’s gifts for something far less. No, you and are sitting right next to him in this historical boat (Romans 3:23). Which brings us back to Jesus, back to Christmas, back to God’s greatest gift, the gift that can save sinners, the gift that can help ungrateful screwups like you and me find forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. But like all gifts, it won’t benefit you unless you receive it, in this case him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son, the Savior of the world.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Go” John 1:12 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Let’s get ready for Christmas, 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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The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.” Psalm 103:19 (NLT)

How did we end up here, you and I, here in Don Pedro, La Grange, Coulterville, Greeley Hill, in California, in the United States? How did you get here wherever you read this? Born here, moved here, fled here, or immigrated? Had relatives living here, for work, for retirement, to raise a family away from city troubles, because the houses were affordable? Or maybe you are still wondering?

Regardless of the reasons, obviously we did end up here, in this place, this state, and this country. It might have been the result of our own choices or we might have had little or nothing to do with it, and still we are here together. We might not even like each other, although it would be much better if we did. We might have vastly different political views, values, interests, and beliefs, and nevertheless are globbed together here.

If we are not careful we can think that life is merely accidental, or that we are where we are and what we are solely because of our own choices. Thanksgiving is, among other things, a reminder that this not so. The Pilgrims along with many of the founding Fathers of our country believed, and rightly so, in providence, a word largely lost in our present culture, thinking, and discourse. Believing in providence acknowledges the reality of God, his existence, his guidance, his care, his power shaping and sustaining history, and that we play a part in both the receiving and the shaping ends of providence.

Divine providence is a great truth, it helps us to see life and each other differently, it pushes us towards humility, it forces us to live with greater responsibility, and causes us to be thankful and to give God praise. Remember the Thanksgiving story you learned in Kindergarten? It is a story of providence (and maybe explains why some want to purge it from being taught). A brutal, harsh winter, starvation, a kind Native American doing what is right, a bountiful harvest, a feast, and the giving of thanks to God.

Of course you and I can chose to go the opposite direction, to ignore both God and our neighbor, to laugh at the notion of providence, to shirk its responsibilities, to abhor the sacrifices it calls us to make, and instead live mostly for ourselves. It won’t make us better, but poorer. It won’t make us happier, but more cynical and afraid.

So, as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, look around at the people sitting at your table, next door neighbors, those living in your community, and the people near and far who for some reason have been placed in your life. They are the people God has put you with, they are your responsibility, you have the ability to do what is good and right for them and us together, you can help them, bless them, you can engage with them in such a way that their lives are better because of you, and you can be an instrument in the hands of God to such an extent that it will cause us to thank and praise God together.

Now that you have read this far would you please pause for a moment and either silently or out loud say a prayer thanking God for all the good, all of the blessings you have received and enjoyed this past year, and then ask God to use you for the good and benefit of the people among whom he has placed you, to be an instrument of his providence, to be someone for whom others are grateful and give thanks to God.

To God be all glory. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Pastor Hans

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