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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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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

We have a way of changing the story, not just the Christmas story, but stories in general. This too, is what marks sinners. It happens every day, in editorial meetings, communications offices, courtrooms, lunch conversations, principals’ offices, telephone calls, press releases, leaks, history books and documentaries, and … The focus gets changed, facts are omitted, small details are exaggerated, emphases are shifted, fingers get pointed, personal and political agendas take hold and rearrange.

The birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, the redemptive plan of God centered in his Son Jesus Christ is a case in point. What has happened to Mary, the young woman whom God offered to become the mother of the Christ. We actually know precious little about her. How do you picture her? For the most part her story has been taken into three directions: 1. She is a demur young woman who is all but passive, holding up the baby Jesus to visitors and artist/photographers with a peaceful smile on her face. 2. She has been elevated to the status of semi-goddess. 3. She has been reduced to a fictional character in an utterly absurd religious story. All of these have changed the story.

Mary’s name means “obstinate, rebellious.” Her Old Testament name sake is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was anything but a demur soul, but rather outspoken, strong-willed, and quick-witted. God clearly saw Mary for more than breeding stock with the right blood line, he, above anyone else, knew that this young woman knew how to think, had inner strength, had a faith willing to take risks, was honest, and didn’t need the limelight. God invited her into his story and she volunteered herself, her body, and her life for life. And she didn’t change the story, her story – others did. She let the story be about Jesus, her life be about Jesus.

So, this Christmas, what have you done with the story, the truth of Jesus? How much have you changed it? Have you dismissed it? Have you replaced it with your own narrative? Have you reduced it to sentimental movie tradition, to a leggy lamp and a Red Rider BB gun? Has it become about your family instead of God’s family?

“Jesus Christ came into our world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), that is the unchanged story of Christmas. You and I can respond to it like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, …” (Luke 1:38), and from then on let our lives be about Jesus Christ, or we can to decide to do what sinners do, change the story, but only one can actually save you.

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

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Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

For sure I would’ve flunked the Ancient Eastern Astrological Society’s entrance exam, because my knowledge of the night sky does not extend past the Big Dipper and North Star. I would have completely missed Jesus’ cosmic birth announcement, and would have been a no-show. There would not have been any presents for Jesus if those wise men seeking to worship the King of the Jews would have had to rely on my astronomical skills.

I don’t think the shepherds living out with the sheep saw what the wise men saw either, even though they did spend a lot of time looking at the night sky. They too, just walking distance of Bethlehem, would have missed the birth of Christ.

I wonder how many Magi from the East didn’t make the journey? They saw the same star as the those traveled, maybe they were even consulted, maybe they thought their colleagues had strayed too far from astronomy to astrology? It’s one thing to observe and study the stars, it is quite another to read a divine message, a heavenly invitation out of the stars.

Do you, like me, wonder why God in his infinite wisdom thought it important to inform those shepherds and deliver a grand invitation to them? In fact, they were given the honor to be the first witnesses of the God incarnate, of God in the flesh.

What a contrast between those shepherds and the Magi from the East. Think about it: uneducated shepherds – learned wise men, men spending their nights outside with sheep – scholars sleeping on soft beds in fine houses, simple men who most likely never travelled more than fifty miles from home – men who had both the time and money to travel far, Jews – gentiles, subsistence sheep-herders – wealthy men with gifts fit for a king, men who wouldn’t be allowed to come close enough to smell the inside of a palace – emissaries who got an audience with king Herod on the spot. Yet both were invited to come and have a look, to see, in the flesh, the very Son of God. Neither would have anticipated receiving an invitation from God himself to come, see, know, and worship Jesus the Christ.

God is still inviting people, you, your family members, your friends, co-workers, neighbors, even your enemies, to come and see his Son, Jesus Christ, and follow him, believe in him, acknowledge him, worship him. It doesn’t matter if you have calloused or soft hands, smell like sheep or Hugo for Men™, if you are wealthy or dirt poor, educated or illiterate, rough or refined, important or obscure, religiously engaged or not. God, through the Holy Spirit and the Church (the body and bride of Christ) is still sending out Christmas invitation, The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say (respond), ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” Revelation 22:17 (NASB, parenthesis mine). And sometimes and invitation to follow, believe in, and worship Jesus looks a lot like a pastor’s note.

Consider yourself officially invited.

Merry 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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Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

If you were in the direct path of a category 5 hurricane and someone told of a way to keep you, your family, and your neighbors completely save, would you pay attention? If that person told you that you not to board up the house but instead have a barbeque with some very specific ingredients and instructions, would you take her serious, or would you politely smile and get the plywood, hammer, and nails?

A spiritual storm was brewing in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had turned on people they once had invited, the Hebrews. Their solution was to oppress this growing minority who was threating to dilute all things Egyptian, so they reduced them to the status of slaves. What the Egyptians didn’t know was that God, for reasons only known to himself, has a special place in his heart for the Hebrews and for all who are oppressed. When the Hebrews demanded liberty, the right to leave, Pharaoh and the Egyptian leadership balked and cracked down harder. Even repeated calamities (known as the 10 plagues) that were unquestionably by the hand of God did not soften their hearts and change their minds and policies. (I wonder what kind of spiritual and political stubbornness, directly opposed to God’s will, besets you and me?) The last of the 10 judgments was that God would strike every male firstborn in Egypt dead. I wonder if the Egyptian leaders laughed in disbelief when Moses announced it to them. After all, how could that possibly happen? I wonder what the Hebrews thought when Moses told them of both the judgment and the only way to escape it. Which brings us back to the barbeque, better known as the Passover (Exodus 12).

Passover is so called because those who observed the first Passover where kept save from the judgment of the death of the firstborn, the angels dispatched to carry out this particular judgment “passed over” every home with the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorjamb and lintel. Besides slaughtering, grilling, and eating sheep or goat yearling, they were also supposed to bake only unleavened bread, and supposed to be ready and dressed to leave Egypt for good. Every Passover since recalls and remembers this event, and that in the wake of it the Egyptians finally relented and let Hebrews leave.

So, what did this have to do with Corinthians Christians (Greeks) 1500 years later, and how is this relevant to you and me 3500 years later? The greatest storm, the final calamity, the full judgment of God regarding all mankind, including you and me, is still to come, and we only have this life to prepare for it. There is no second chance after the night of death, “the day of the Lord?” We like the ancient Hebrews need both liberation and protection from God’s judgment, we need to leave the land of slavery and journey into God’s promises. Sin will not release its slaves voluntarily and God’s judgment will not just arbitrarily pass us by, we need salvation. Without the blood of Jesus Christ, the unblemished sinless lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, without his blood applied to the doorposts of our lives, we will not survive when God will summon the living and the dead before his throne of judgment. The ancient Passover points to the ultimate Passover, Jesus Christ.

So, in the ancient Passover the lamb is Jesus, the blood is his, the bread without leaven, Christ the sinless one. We are the ones dressed to journey, ready to live by faith, willing to trust the word and promises of God, leaving sin (leaven) and its slavery behind, ready to build a different kind of world, one that reflects the rulership, the holiness, and the heart of God.

You would think that all of this is a no brainer, but it wasn’t for the ancient Egyptians, nor was it for the Hebrews, or us today. The Egyptians hung on to their gods, even when they were exposed as impotent and dead idols, just like we hang on to our own beliefs and opinions. The Hebrews constantly wanted to go back, they wanted something less challenging than a life of faith, even if it meant slavery. The Corinthians divorced religious ritual from affecting real life, they hung the traveling clothes in the closet and sang to Jesus while being morally corrupt gorging on leavened bread. And then of course there is us, you and me. What is, and what will be your Passover reality?

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

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How rich would you want your children to be? I imagine you’d prefer them not to be poor. Susie, my wife, and I have worked really hard so our children would not have to ever be as poor as we once were, maybe you have done the same. Maybe you bought a lottery ticket or two for the slim chance of winning big so you can put the financial tightrope behind you and have your kids and grandkids be all set.

Of course, Susie and I didn’t just work hard on the money thing in regard to our kids, we wanted them to have opportunities as well. But with little money, opportunities are also harder to come by. I can’t tell you how many tamales got manufactured in our kitchen in order to raise money for an exchange student year and other opportunities we wanted our children to have.

But there is still more to life than money and opportunities, you can have lots of both and be poor in character. In fact, if we would have had to choose between money, opportunities, and character Susie and I would have asked for our children to grow up and be rich in character, for them to be honest, hard-working, kind, generous, dependable, thoughtful, wise, gritty, frugal, confident, ever- learning, courageous, caring, optimistic, daring, creative, fun-loving, and selfless people.

We also did not want them to have poor minds; a mind is terrible thing to waste. So, we read to them, filled our house with books, took them to the library mobile, limited the TV and other electronic mindlessness, challenged them to think, to figure things out, to love discovering and learning, and develop discipline and tenaciousness of mind. No, we did not want them to have poor minds, because poor minds think small and are easily deceived. I have to admit that there were times when we almost regretted working hard to enrich their minds, usually when they outsmarted us, blew holes into our parental arguments, or exposed our own mental poverty or duplicity.

There are so many ways to be poor and our constant prayer was we would succeed in raising our kids to be anything but poor. We don’t want them to have poor manner, poor social skills, poor foresight, poor judgment, a poor sense of justice, poor morals, poor vocabularies, poor habits, poor skills, poor money and time management, poor civic involvement, and so much more. Man, parenting to make your kids rich is tough, because you don’t just have to pay attention to so many things but you also have to model all that stuff.

Suppose you and Susie and I succeed in doing a really good job at all of the above helping them to grow up in a “rich” environment, a “rich” home filled with real love, fun, opportunities, values, security, and all the things that help them become rich in every way. We can succeed in all of the above and our children could still be utterly poor of soul if God is nowhere to be found in all of that riches. Jesus, in describing a hardworking man who is living the American dream, but with God nowhere in the picture, calls him both a fool and poor when it came to God (Luke 12:1-40).

There is not much good in poverty of any kind, but none is more far-reaching than poor towards God, leaving God and Christ out of life’s most important decisions, having a mind that is not curious and seeking after God, having a heart that does not love God, having values and morals that offend God, living and dying without trusting in, following, and obeying the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Fellow parents, how I pray that you give yourself to God through his Son Jesus Christ, that you build your family around your relationship with God and the word of God (the Bible), that you dedicate yourself to make your children really rich in what matters most, both now and for eternity.

If you are wondering where to start, get back on track, and stay on course for the long-haul I encourage you to do the following three things beginning today.

  • Every week for the next six months go to a church where the Bible is taught and lived.
  • Read the Bible in your home, start in Mark. Be prepared for your children to ask questions you can’t answer (that will have you come back to church for answers).
  • Pray in the name of Jesus with your spouse and your family.

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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