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Went to eat at El Pollo Loco. Every item listed on the menu had the calories listed. I suppose full disclosure is important but it kind of takes the joy out of eating, at least for me.

We have warning labels on packs of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, tools, power cords, toys, and who knows what else. Even pillows have warning labels; those tags that make you feel like you doing something illegal if you cut them off. Pillows! Really, “Warning! Do not use horizontally, sleep might occur.”

Jesus, the Bible, might soon be required to have a warning label, and rightly so. “Warning! If followed he/it will radically change your life.” The truth is we prefer to be comfortably changed, but we resist to be radically changed. The problem is that in order to be comfortably changed you have to change Jesus and be selective about God’s word (the Bible). We prefer for Jesus to change things in our kingdom (however large or small that is) rather than fit us for his kingdom.

If you eat at El Pollo Loco enough it won’t be long before you no longer notice the calorie numbers. All those warning labels, we hardly, if at all, notice them anymore, “they are more about compliance and litigation anyway.” We can get like that when it comes to Christ and God’s word as well. We can settle into habits, continue with habits, excuse our habits, warning labels be damned.

“Why are you talking with her?” Jesus’ disciples demanded to know, her being a single, outcast Samaritan woman. The goal was to get in and out of Samaria as fast as possible, not to have conversations. They obviously did not see what Jesus saw, they did not feel what Jesus felt, they did not care about what Jesus cared about. The story about the Samaritan woman and her village (John 4: 1-45) would have never gotten written with the safe, small, and earthly Christ his disciples had in their minds. They wanted Jesus to change their nation, he wants to change every single person. They thought this was a waste of time, Jesus decided to give it more time.

The people of Sychar, that Samaritan town his disciples and most Jews were glad to see in the review mirror, asked Jesus to stay. Can you hear his disciples, “No, no, no, very bad idea, this will be all over Twitter, this will be bad publicity.” But stay he did, and thus they did too. Sad, that Jesus has to take us were we don’t want to be but should be, that he has to make us stay because we want to run to the safe and familiar, that he has to force us to the radical side, the one with the warning label, of his love, of mercy and grace, of seeing and caring about people in light of his kingdom and eternity.

El Pollo Loco’s calorie numbers are real, that fat burrito really is over half of the calories you need for an entire day. The warning labels on pack of cigarettes are telling the truth, smoking is really bad for your health. The real Jesus, the eternal word of God, is not safe, is not comfortable, but demanding, radical, and life-changing – read the warning label:

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:57-62 (NLT)

To God be all glory. Love you , Pastor Hans

 

 

At the moment everything around us is awash in color, predominantly variations of green, but what stands out from this canvas of green are the specks of poppy orange, the stacks of lupine blue and white, the intense purple in tangles of common fetch, and if you peek down the hill behind our barn when the sun is setting the soft blues brodiaeas light up like tiny light bulbs. It is amazing how little color is needed to stand out, how breath-taking tiny dabs of beauty can be.

I wonder what God is trying to teach us through nature’s yearly dress up gala. God does speak through the things he brought into being, he reveals things about himself through what he created, his existence, his power, his greatness, his imagination, and much more are declared from mountain peaks to the depth of the seas, in the deserts and jungles, at the end of a microscope or a telescope. But to me, this spring, it is the littleness and the loudness of the dots of colors that has my attention.

Many springs I simply mowed them down, after all, when you have to mow you have to mow. But this year I left unmowed circles where the flag signals of flowers let me know, “I am here.” If I mow them down before they finish blooming and go to seed they won’t be back next year, and I do want them to come back and in greater numbers.

Flowers are not the only ones who know how to be beautiful. We, formed in the image of God and unlike flowers, can chose to be beautiful anytime and anywhere. Sometimes, no oftentimes, to many times I tell myself that it takes too much effort, that I need gallons of paint to really make a difference, and so I won’t open my little half pint, my small heart, my drab imagination to splatter what little I have.

We know how to beautiful. We could be beautiful every day. We could indiscriminately splatter love. We could unleash the brilliance of kindness. We could be like lupines and bring splendor to someone’s roadside. We know of the beauty of generosity, compassion, help, selflessness, goodness, justice, forgiveness, and so much more, and that we are capable of them, even if it is in just tiny measures. We know how to speak beautiful, encouraging, healing words. We know how to be beautiful. God has made us to be beautiful. And yet, I have to be reminded to by the flowers of the field.

How glad are they? Those who live where God has planted you? How glad are they for the color, the beauty you add to their field, their lives? Do you do so well that even the wicked mow circles around your splashes of color, hoping there will be more of it?

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

Here in Central California we’re not used to days and days of rain, bundles of sunshine – yes, buckets of rain – no. Of course, if you just get sunshine you will soon live in a desert, get too much rain and the collective power of little raindrops spells disaster. Go too far in either direction, be exposed to the extremes of both sunshine and rain and our existence becomes increasingly marginal, more and more precarious.

After years of drought we needed to be inundated with rain, we needed to be doused with precipitation far above the normal. We were on the very precipice of disaster, all our wealth, ingenuity, and technology none withstanding. We had to change our ways and conserve. Things that were a luxury, like green grass and decorative shrubbery, no longer got water. We showered less, flushed less, and continually thought of how to use less. We didn’t like our shrinking margin of existence, we were frightened by this continual inching towards disaster. So, we watched with joy when the rains came, when dormant streams were resurrected back to life, when the rivers swelled, and when our lakes rose and filled.

We wanted things to get back to normal, normal being that which we were used to; being able to turn on the hose without thinking, without worry, without the threat of being penalized. And now that we have had enough rain to expand our margins, to relax the conservation rules, to not having to worry for a few years, we want our sunshine back, we want the rain to accommodate our schedules again.

We find it hard to adjust ourselves to new normals. We much rather have everything around us work in a way that sustains or returns our normal. This way we do not have to change our habits, our routines, our expectations, our dreams, our comfort level. This is true spiritually as well and is one of the major challenges of the Christian life, adjusting ourselves to a new normal, adjusting ourselves to God, to Christ, to a life with the Holy Spirit, to an existence ordered by faith, scripture, and community (church/the body of Christ).

An unwillingness to adjust ourselves to the new realities of a life with and in Christ causes us to yearn for the old normal, which in reality never has been normal, but sinful, depraved, self-absorbed. It leads us to diminishing God, a Christ without a cross, syncretism, and religious pluralism. It sets Christ up for failure (although he cannot and will never fail) because Jesus Christ did not come to submit himself and support our normal. Without our submitting to the normal as Christ defines it, we will be sooner than later be disappointed by his lack of support, by the lack of water, by too many rainy days, and move on to someone or something that acquiesces more readily to our normal, to a life that requires little faith, fewer adjustments, and less obedience.

The crucified, risen, and exalted Christ still calls, “Follow Me,” (Mark 1:17, 10:21) and if we do we cannot remain in that which was normal before we followed. It means making many changes in our hearts, minds, outlooks, desires, dreams, values, actions, and reactions. It means giving up all desire to ever return to anything that was and felt normal without Christ. “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT). “You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

I didn’t think I needed sunscreen, after all it was kind of hazy and we were not going to be outside for very long, but man did I get sunburned.

For 45 years I didn’t think I need glasses, my older brothers did but not me. Then the food on my dinner plate was no longer in focus, and on my first visit to the optometrist I was told that I needed glasses.

Somebody at NASA during the Gemini program thought it was a good idea to stick a roll of duct tape on board of the space capsules and so, although it never did get used, they carried a roll on every mission during the Apollo program as well. Until the Apollo 13 mission got into trouble and, you guessed it, the duct tape was a big part of what saved the crew. I wonder how often it was suggested to no longer bother carrying the extra weight of the duct tape, that it was no longer needed?

The travel nurse made sure I had all my vaccinations in order before going on a trip to Africa, she told me to also pick up a prescription for a malaria preventative and Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic. “Do I really need that?” I asked. “I highly recommend taking it with you,” she said. Boy, o boy, was I glad that I listened to her when I was hit by some kind of intestinal inferno.

You, me, and my son need insulin if we want to live. When I get up in the morning I don’t think about insulin, my body takes care of all of my insulin calculations and needs. My son, a diabetic, thinks about insulin all of the time. He has to make sure he has insulin, syringes, needles, test strips, etc. on hand; he can’t afford to run out. He has to monitor, calculate, and administer continually. But the truth is we both need insulin if we want to live, however, our awareness of that need is vastly different.

So just because we don’t think we need something, or because we thought we’d never need it, or because we seemingly have not needed it yet, or because we don’t have to think about something we need, does not mean we don’t need it.

It is Easter, and Easter is about what we need most, I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures (the written Word of God) said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT, parenthesis mine). There are three inescapable facts regarding you, me, and everyone else:

  1. We are sinners (Romans 3:23)
  2. We will die (Romans 6:23, Ezekiel 18:4).
  3. We will have to face God’s judgment (Hebrews (9:27-28).

This is why we need Jesus Christ, to be forgiven of our sins, to not be defeated by death but instead receive eternal life, and to escape the judgment of God. There is no one else but the crucified, buried, and risen Jesus Christ, who can help you and me with these. “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12 (NLT). Let me ask you, “How wise is it to ignore what God thinks you need most?”

It is only If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” Romans 10:9-10 (NLT)

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Sunday Revisited

(Before you read the pastor’s note that follows I highly recommend taking out a Bible and read Matthew 21:1-46)

The drycleaners and Laundromats were busy after Jesus rode into town. All those coats and blankets needed cleaning and washing after being used for an impromptu welcoming mat, an unofficial red carpet. Of course it is easy to lay down your coat, to get all caught up in the spirit and hype of the moment, it is quite another thing to lay down your life and follow Jesus.

It went downhill quickly; the crowd’s expectations and Jesus’ expectations were miles apart. They missed the first clue. Jesus came riding a donkey, not a stallion, not a chariot, not a limousine, not a pope-mobile, no police motorcade, no demonstrations of power, military parades, fly-bys, and choreographed pageantries, no speeches, no press conference, just quietness and humility. But it is easy to overlook ‘minor’ details when seemingly big things are on the line.

They wanted their particular “Hosanna” (save now!) Jesus (Savior), who would represent and implement their particular brand of politics regarding personal and national interests. They wanted change without having to change. They wanted the foreigners, those who didn’t belong, out. They wanted times of former glory without repentance.

Jesus had entirely different expectations, his first act after parking the donkey was confronting what everyone had accepted, using God, using religion for our own ends. He walked into the temple and acted like a madman, flipping tables, kicking down booths where pilgrims and worshippers were exploited. Coming into God’s presence is supposed to be free of exploitation. God is not a racket. They had gotten so used to the perversion and misuse of the holy, of the spiritual, of God that they thought it was normal. It wasn’t just those who ran the temple, but also the common worshipper who thought all it takes is a coat in the street, the appropriate offering, a monetary contribution, followed by a prayer to get God onto your side, have him working for you, have blessed odds for your desired outcomes.

The next day, on his way back into Jerusalem, Jesus curses a fig tree that has leaves but no fruit. It, like the expectations of the people and the reality in the temple, was not how God has meant for it to be. Outward appearance is not enough, God has both public and private expectations of us, namely, to bear the fruit we are capable of bearing. He is expecting more than coats in the road, cheap religious pageantry and fancy liturgy, more than green leaves. What they wanted flipped and cursed is not what Jesus flipped and cursed.

We still do it, try to make Jesus conform to our particular brand of politics; it is so much easier than conforming our politics to Jesus. It is easier to pick a crowd to march and scream with than to deal with the tables that need to be flipped and the fruit that is missing. On the flipside it is easy to make following Jesus something that is merely personal, to claim a private relationship with Jesus that has no connection to the public and political. Don’t be fooled, it has its own “money changers” who convert the Christian life into a spiritual form of self-indulgence, a personal spiritual retreat where justice, poverty, sacrifice, suffering, involved compassion rarely make it into our prayers unless we ourselves need help, where there is lots of green but little or no of kingdom passion and fruit.

After they welcomed Jesus they picked up their coats, but “(Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” Luke 9:23 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

Pastor Paul

Pastor Paul,

Starting this Saturday, April 1, 2017, Pastor Paul is retiring from being the Associate Pastor. He will miss the pay, $ 0, that’s for sure. Diana will miss him down at the church all the time. She’ll will no longer be able to say, “Don’t you have something to down at the church,” when she wants him out of the house. And she won’t have to fret over what else he committed himself to when she wasn’t paying attention.

All kidding aside, Paul and Diana are real gift to our church. In all of my years here few have involved themselves so readily, so deeply, and so faithfully. As Associate Pastor Paul lead and oversaw the Ministry Leadership Team, the Facilities Team, Amazing Grays, Advertising and Promotion, Majesty Adventures, Kitchen Team, and the Website, besides visiting, counseling, and leading an Adult small group. His energy and commitment to do it right amaze me. But more than that it is his heart to please God, to seek and do what is best for us as a church that has so enriched and blessed us. The good news is that Paul and Diana are neither moving nor leaving (you know how much I hate for people do either), but will continue to be involved in some of the above but without the pastoral responsibility. This gives opportunity for you and others to step up.

My favorite thing about Paul is that I can trust him, completely. He cares about you and me and us as a church as deeply as anyone. Even when I frustrated him, consternated him, disagreed with him, or disappointed him Paul has continued to serve, invest himself, and love deeply. I think he well deserves to be a little bit more retired and be a little bit less tied down. I think Diana, his kids, and grandkids will love that.

Three scriptures come to mind as a write this note:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” Philippians 1:3 (NASB). 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever” Psalm 133:1-3 (NASB).

“What then is Apollos (Hans)? And what is Paul (Baker)? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NASB, parenthesis mine).

Thank You Paul and Diana.

With deep gratitude and praise, Pastor Hans

 

 

What the hail!

What the hail! That was some wild weather outburst this past Tuesday, paintball sized hail with the occasional clunker, warnings of funnel clouds with two actually touching down, everything turning icy white in a matter of minutes, a continual roar augmented with flashes of lightning and thunder. You definitely didn’t want to be out there, the thing to do was to run for cover. The oak trees with their fresh green leaves didn’t have that option and had their canopies shredded, leaving a carpet of leave bits, pollen pods, and twig fragments below them.

We are tempted to think of weather, of nature, as being completely arbitrary, but like all things they are subject to the power, will, and purposes of God, of Christ. God is more than merely human attempts to explain the inexplicable, he really is Lord of all, the Sovereign over all creation, the visible and invisible.

Isn’t it amazing how big and powerful we can feel when the there is just a gentle cooling breeze while the sun is shining? It is easy to be the master of your own destiny in fair and favorable weather, when life is good, when things pan out as planned, when there are lots of opportunities, when our health is good, when things are peaceful and prosperous. It takes just one dark cloud packed with power immensely greater than our own to remind us how little we actually control, how small we are, how dependent we are on the goodwill, the mercy, and the compassion of the one whom not only the clouds must obey, but who, by a command from his lips, spoke the entire universe into being.

We are fortunate when an impressive hailstorm is a mere reminder for us to look up and acknowledge God. Sometimes the unleashing of natures might and fury is much more than that, a very act of the judgment of God, the very hand of God working against us. This troubles the modern mind, this higher accountability, this being tied to spiritual, to moral and ethical standards not our own, this having to bow to the one who commands “the wind and the sea” (Mark 4:41). It is easier to settle for a world that is arbitrary, merely controlled by impersonal forces of nature, that leaves us accountable to none but ourselves, that is nothing more than a crapshoot of chance, and has no need to look deeper, to ask about the will of God.

The truth of the word of God, the written revelation of God, the Scriptures, the Bible stands in stark contrast to the modern mindset and all those who have and would deny the existence of God. God used hail to humble Pharaoh (Exodus 9:18-33), he defeated the Amorites with hail (Joshua 10:11), he summoned the wind to catch up with runaway Jonah (Jonah 1:1-17), he directed swarms of locust (Exodus 10:12-19; Joel 1:1-2-), he unleashed natures forces against Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:16-33, 11:23-29), he darkened the sky when Jesus died (Matthew 27:45). These and more were not coincidences but serve as clear examples and reminders of both the power and sovereignty of God.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. Psalm 19:1-2 (adapted from NLT)

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today! Psalm 95:6-7 (NLT)

Next time you see dark clouds gather on the horizon, do more than run for cover, be reminded of God, of Christ, and bow, and worship.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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