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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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On Monday I was driving past Merced Junior College on Yosemite Avenue. On the front lawn there was a display of rows and rows of American flags in preparation for Veterans Day. It caused me to slow down and remember how much I have benefited from the service of American soldiers. Before I was born, it was American servicemen and women who turned the tide against Hitler’s plans of evil and world tyranny; it was American soldiers who safeguarded a completely unarmed and vulnerable West Germany from the spread and domination of Soviet communism. It was American military might that was the deterrent throughout the Cold War and afforded me to grow up with all the liberties that Americans hold dear. All these many veterans have impacted my life; have afforded me choices I might not otherwise have had.

Driving by the Veterans Day flag memorial I also thought of the American Army Soldiers my Dad invited into our home to spend Christmas with us. It was a program sponsored by the nearby army base. My Dad always requested a black soldier because for one they were harder to place and because he wanted us grow up with less prejudice than he did. He wanted us to see beyond skin color, something that became important to him through his involvement with the YMCA in the early post WWII years. Remember there was still a draft in those years. Those young men might have served for all kinds of reasons, and certainly they little or nothing to do with the larger political machinations that impacted and determined their lives, but neither did I. What I do know is I have immeasurably benefited from their lives and service.

Now I am old enough to run into veterans whom I taught in school, coached in basketball or soccer, took to camps, and/or pastured as they grew up in Don Pedro. I have brother-in-laws who have retired from military service. I have talked with, counseled, and pray with Veterans with deep scars and burdens. I lead a little church and Sunday after Sunday there are Veterans who come to worship to pray, to learn to live like Jesus. I have a sense of indebtedness, of deep gratitude because of the impact they have had on my life, my family, my opportunities, and my safety.

It is easy to forget how deeply we are tied to history, to who and what came before us, to forget how intertwined our lives are with the lives of others right now; to forget that much of the good and best in our lives is connected to the service of others; to forget how much we benefit from battles others have fought; to forget God has assigned us all to be contributors to history and will hold us accountable as such; to forget to be grateful and contribute ourselves to a better world, to freedom, to safety, to justice, to civic courage, and to honor. So I give thanks to God for each Veteran who has and is contributing like that; may God bless you.

To God be all glory, 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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Dear Church Family,

As it is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I happen to be married to the pastor, I’d like to share some things about your pastor that you may, or may not know.  Mostly, I’d like to encourage you to pray for my husband.  He has been hard at it for over 33 years now.  We’ve raised our four children and other’s children during these years.  Raising our kids, learning how to do ministry, continuing our education, working other jobs, being involved in community and church life… it all adds up to a heap of experience, heartache, challenges, disappointment, loss, friendships, farewells, and abundant joys.  As a pastor in a rural community with only one church, Hans has been called upon to do an assortment of things over the years.  Many of these activities would never be on the resume of a typical city pastor, however, Hans has been called upon as a pastor to do:

  • Mechanic work
  • Garbage pick-up
  • Yard work
  • Handyman
  • Counselor
  • Personal shopper
  • Local park security watch
  • Recycler
  • Mover
  • Clean-up after a move
  • School Teacher
  • Coach (basketball, soccer)
  • Painter
  • Animal control (wild Bobcat kittens, dying goat, etc.)
  • Conflict Manager
  • Song writer
  • Musician
  • Property repossession
  • Driver
  • Academic tutor
  • Rattlesnake exterminator
  • Community meeting facilitator
  • Gardner
  • Tree faller
  • Wood cutter

And, of course, his normal pastoral duties: preach, teach, counsel, administrative, hospital visits, jail visits, youth work, worship, service planning, write pastor’s note, funerals, missions, camp, VBS, baptisms, and weddings.  Hans does all these things well, humbly, quietly, sincerely, without fan-fare or needing recognition.  He loves God’s work, God’s church, and God’s kingdom agenda.  You and I are beyond blessed to have him as our pastor.  And my encouragement to you, as his church family, is to pray for him, remind him to take time for rest, share your blessings with him, and let him know you appreciate him.  Not just during the month of October, but when you find yourself needing your pastor and he’s there, as he has been for 33 years.

Grace be with you,

Susie Frei

 

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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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Amazing Grace and Ray Coffee,

I was his pastor for 33 years, in fact he, along with the others who voted in early August of 1984 to call me as the interim pastor of the Lake Don Pedro Baptist Church, is responsible that I am your pastor today. He was about the age I am now when he cast that vote and I wonder how many times he wondered whether it was a smart move to entrust a stubborn German with the pastoral responsibilities of this flock. And, if I am honest there were times I wondered why in the world I signed on to be Ray’s pastor. Nevertheless, we ended up with 33 years of relationship and friendship, of sharing in God’s amazing grace.

From what Ray told me he was a rough, mean, hard-drinking, short-tempered man before God got a hold of him and he called on Christ to save him. He never did figure out why a girl named Barbara decided to love him and try to tame him, although she wondered a lot about how successful she actually was. Between Christ and Barbara, Ray did change, but growing spiritually was a struggle for him for as long as I knew him, “the old man dies hard,” the flesh wars against the spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). This struggle did make Ray more keenly aware that God’s grace in Christ was his only hope. He was saved by and died (“fell asleep” -1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), in amazing grace.

God assembled a small group of men and women in their late working and early retirement life to start a church here in Don Pedro. Everything that has happened in and through this local church body, this church family (that’s what it was for him) Ray has had a part in it, through serving, helping, building, giving, inviting, investing and showing up. This too is a result of amazing grace.

For Ray, like most of us, his greatest assets were also the source of his weaknesses. Ray had the gift of gab, the ability to communicate with complete strangers, to build relationships quickly, but his mouth also spoke when it should have kept silent, said things that were inappropriate, were ill-timed, and many times hurtful. His patriotism, service to the country, work-ethic, and dependability, were unquestionable, but they also could make him judgmental. His zest for life made him a person of action, but it also could make him selfish. So, it was more than just words when he sang about coming “to the garden alone” to walk and talk with God, to meet with living and eternal “Amazing Grace.”

I miss him, how could I not, 33-year relationships don’t happen all the time, 33- year friendships are a gift, 33 years of serving Christ together is precious. In this relationship, I got to graduate from the “kid” to “You are alright’’ to “my pastor,” I count that as a great honor, and as amazing grace.

To God be all glory. Pastor Hans

 

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