Art work by Elaine Croft

Proverbs 16 gives us some important insight into how our words can help other people. It talks about “gracious words”.

The wise in heart are called discerning and gracious words promote instruction. (21)

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (24)

The definition of gracious is courteous, kind, and pleasant.

According to the author of Proverbs, gracious words do three things: promote instruction, are sweet to the soul and are healing to the bones.

What would be the opposite of gracious words? And what do they do?

The opposite would be cruel words; degrading words; sarcastic words; insulting words. Instead of promoting instruction, these words hinder growth. They are not sweet to the soul like honey, but bitter like gall. They do not promote physical well being, but invite sickness and poor health.

When I think of these two extremes, I think of the art work in the picture above. Gracious words are like roses. They are beautiful and sweet smelling and bring life and happiness to the soul. Harsh or demeaning words are like dry, lifeless, dead bones and benefit no one.

This Advent season I want to be more intentional about my words. I want to put kind, courteous and pleasant words into the spiritual and emotional Christmas stockings of those I come in contact with – my family, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers. I want my words to be sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Perhaps we can all take Mother Teresa’s advice and speak kind words into our world, and then step back and listen to the endless echoes.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their need, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Passiflora Foetida, also know as Wild Passionfruit, Running Pop and Wild Maracuja

I truly believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy. I believe that because the Bible tells me so.

The phrase in the Bible that leads me to that conviction is “The LORD is good, and his love endures forever.” These words are found 11 times in the Old Testament, from 1 Chronicles (16:34) to Jeremiah (33:11). It is found most frequently in Psalms (100:5; 106:1; 107;1; 118:1; 136:1).

Most of the time, this scriptural nugget is preceded by the words, “Give thanks to the Lord” as in Psalms 106:1 and 107:1. “Give thanks to the LORD for he is good; his love endures forever.”

I try to practice that admonishment everyday. When the sun pokes its head over the horizon every morning, I tell myself and those around me, “Look, he did it again!” God doesn’t have to make the sunrise everyday, but he does because he loves us and wants us to be happy!

I am the gardener at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico. When I see the Birds of Paradise, Hibiscus, Geraniums, Canna Lilies, Bougainvilles or Roses in bloom, I can see how God is so good and loves us so much, and I happily give him thanks and praise his name. He didn’t have to give us all these beautiful flowers, but he did, because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

My wife and I have a little piece of property not too far from the home for needy children. I am constantly planting and caring for many flowers, bushes and trees that I planted. They need a lot of TLC to flourish and thrive (kinda like us humans). I was pleasantly surprised about a month ago, by the appearance of the Passion Flower pictured above. It is beautiful. I did not plant it. God did. Why? Because the LORD is Good and his Love endures forever and because he loves us and wants us to be happy. Just ask Benjamin Franklin.

“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voice in praise to the LORD and sang:

He is good; his love endures forever.

Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God. 2 Chronicles 5:13,14

Entrance to the Mitla municipal cemetery. The message above is translated to say, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.

I have had death on my mind this last week. November 1 and 2 are the holidays in Mexico called Day of the Dead. It’s a big deal in Mexico, and especially in Oaxaca, the state where I live. The Atlantic magazine had a photo spread with Day of the Dead pictures, and two of them were from Oaxaca, one from a little town down the road named Tlacolula. It’s primarily a Catholic holiday (Mexico is 90% Catholic). It comes from a mixed belief of the Zapotecs and Mayans combined with some Catholic beliefs that the spirits of the dead come back for two days every year. Those who celebrate Dia de los Muertos, usually have a shrine in their house dedicated to the dearly departed, and also go to the cemetery and decorate the grave(s) of those family member(s) who have passed on. They usually spend the night at the cemetery eating pan de muertos (dead bread) and drinking. It is a big tourist attraction, where visitors from all over the world come and tour certain cemeteries during the midnight hours. My wife, Anita, was born in Mitla, just down the road from the home for needy children where we serve. Some consider Mitla the dead head capital of Oaxaca (and I don’t mean Grateful Dead). The municipal cemetery there is normally a hoppin’ place during Day of the Dead, but these last two years it has been closed down due to Covid concerns.

Normally the Mitla cemetery would be decorated with hundreds of marigolds in preparation for Day of the Dead this time of year.
Mitla cemetery closed because of a rise in Covid cases.

Another reason I have been thinking about death is that Anita’s uncle died at the end of October. He had dementia and had been ill for quite awhile when he died. He was Catholic. He lived in Mitla. When a Catholic dies in Mitla, it’s a big deal. The deceased is put in a casket and then put on display in one of the rooms of his or her house. Then family and friends come from miles around to comfort the family. My wife was helping the family prepare food. When family and friends show up you give them hot chocolate and bread. Then, about midnight, you start making the real meal, which everyone eats about one a.m. Finally they leave about two a.m. After the clean up, Anita fell into bed about three a.m. She arose early in the morning to do the whole thing over again. The priest shows up and does a mass for the dead, and everyone walks to the cemetery, but not before packing the casket with extra clothes and food and favorite things of the newly dead. A bottle of water was also put into the coffin. Anita asked what that was for. She was told he would probably get thirsty on his long journey (through purgatory?).

At the cemetery, only the immediate family was allowed to view the burial, due to covid concerns. In July we were at the same cemetery for the internment of Anita’s mom, and everyone was allowed in, but it seems the pandemic is experiencing an uptick and restrictions have reared their ugly head. The immediate family finally came out of the cemetery, but relatives and friends hung around for at least an hour drinking beer and mezcal and eating chips. Anita and I had to get back to the mission for a big birthday party and we left. I have no idea how long they all stayed.

Day of the Dead reminded me of my mothers death a couple of years ago, and my mother-in-laws death in July. I also thought of Anita’s other uncle who died a year ago. Some were Christians, some weren’t. I thank God for the hope that Christians have in the face of death: O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Cross embedded on the wall of the Mitla cemetery.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though he dies. Jesus – John 11:25

Refresh – give new strength or energy to; reinvigorate

Proverbs 11 has lots of good, happy advice, like:

The righteous person is rescued from trouble (8)

Those who are kind benefit themselves (17)

One person gives freely, yet gains even more (24)

The happy verse that really caught my attention though, was verse 25, “Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

While we all like to be refreshed from time to time, I don’t think that we think a lot about that word, or that concept. At least I didn’t until I read Proverbs 11.

When I think of being refreshed, I think of liquid refreshment, mainly water. One time, years ago, when I lived in the U.S. I was driving and began to feel nauseous, and then I was sure I was going to vomit, so I pulled into a gas station, and parked at the edge, next to a fence. I got out and sure enough I was soon throwing up. I felt terrible; weak and sick. Then a man who lived in the house next to the gas station, approached the fence with a glass of water and handed it to me. What a surprise! What a good Samaritan he was. I drank the water, thanked the man, and within minutes felt greatly refreshed.

On another occasion, about eight years ago, here at the home for children in Oaxaca, Mexico, almost all of the staff had come together to help mix concrete and lay the foundation for a new school. Some were shoveling sand. Others putting gravel into buckets. One guy was running the cement mixer while another put buckets of water in. A few of us were laboring with the wheel barrows, taking the concrete where it need to go. After about an hour we were all worn out and extremely thirsty. And then my wife made a very welcomed appearance. She was the kitchen supervisor and she brought us pitchers of lemonade, which we gratefully guzzled. After the refreshment and a short break, we all felt what? REFRESHED! And with new found energy we went back to the task at hand. Physically, we had new strength.

People also need to be refreshed emotionally. Everyday someone suffers a heart ache over the death of a loved one, or heartbreak from a broken relationship. There are dozens of reasons people feel down emotionally, and sometimes God can use us to refresh those who suffer disappointment or depression. We can feel directed to offer a hug, word of encouragement, or a shoulder to cry on. That can refresh a person, even if only temporarily.

People need to be refreshed spiritually as well. There are those who once felt close to God, now feel that he is a long way off, absent, missing in action. They too are suffering, and God can nudge us to offer some spiritual refreshment; perhaps a card with an uplifting verse or a listening ear and a timely prayer.

And, according to Proverbs 11:25, not only will the one we reach out to, be refreshed, but also the one who does the refreshing will be refreshed. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

“Repent and turn to God, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19,20

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;

the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.” Psalm 41:1

David claims in Psalm 41 that those who have regard for the weak will be blessed by God in that he will deliver them in times of trouble (times of weakness?). David goes on to say that the LORD also protects and preserves them. And, if that is not enough, David piles on by by proclaiming that the LORD sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness. That is a whole lot of motivation to “regard the weak.”

That also brings up at least two questions: What does “regard” mean and who are the “weak”?

Regard means to consider or to pay attention to, much like one would regard their children or parents or spouse.

The weak could be anyone. It is all kind of relative. A three year old is weak compared to a five year old. A sick person is weak compared to a healthy person. A Jr. High graduate is weak mentally compared to a Ph.D. student. A homeless person is weak financially compared to a CEO. So at any given point, any of us could be considered weak, or strong, depending on whom we are being compared to.

David is King of Israel, a man of power, prestige and influence, yet reading Psalm 41, he identifies with the weak. He is weak spiritually. In verse 4 he says, “Have mercy on me, LORD; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

He is weak physically, mentioning in verse 8 a “vile disease”.

I think he is weak emotionally because a close and trusted friend had turned against him and that betrayal has sapped his strength (vs. 9).

In response to these weakness, he calls out to God to regard his situation and have mercy on him (vs. 10).

Whatever our lot in life, we are all weak spiritually, desperately in need of a Savior; a Helper; a Rescuer. God graciously regards our situation and condescends to intervene and lift us up. Make us stronger. Our response should naturally be to look around us and see the weak; consider the weak; help the weak.

We should also remember, like Paul, that we can boast in our weaknesses because that’s when God’s power most rests on us.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

considerate – showing kindly awareness or regard for another’s feelings, circumstances or wishes.

I was studying 1 Peter last month, and there is one phrase from that letter that keeps coming back to me – “Be considerate.”

That is not a word that we use a lot anymore. It is not a concept that we devote much thought too. That’s too bad. The world could use more considerate people.

The Bible doesn’t use that word too much either, although the concept is found throughout the New Testament in verses like:

“Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

“In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

Those at the top of the list that we should be considerate of and considerate to, are those in our family, both biological and spiritual. Our spouses should be the first person to whom we are considerate, but, unfortunately, they are too often taken for granted and wind up on the bottom rung of the considerate ladder.

This should not be, and that seems to be the way Peter felt about it as well. When he wrote “be considerate” he was addressing husbands and how they are to treat their wives. Specifically he says, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect…” (1 Peter 3:7)

I have read 1 Peter dozens of times and I don’t ever remember him saying this, but this last time it stuck. Maybe God is trying to tell me something! I think about it often, and guess what? I have been more considerate to my wife. I see dirty dishes in the sink, and I think, “What would be the considerate thing to do?” Wash the dishes! And I do. I make coffee in the morning and consider whether or not my wife would like a cup. I ask her and she tells me that she would enjoy a cup of coffee with cream and sugar, thank you very much. I am walking down the street in Tlacolula, Mexico, running errands, and I see a flower vender. I consider my wife, and the next think you know, I am putting a dozen roses in the car.

These are just a few, small examples, but maybe, if we all were a bit more considerate of others, and did a couple extra considerate things everyday, the world would be a happier place. After all, God wants us to be happy and considers our needs, wants and wishes, and blesses us beyond all measure, so let us bless others (especially our spouses) by being considerate.

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you. Therefore do not be anxious about anything.” Matthew 6:28-31

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. When that happens I reach for Thomas a Kempis’ classic book, The Imitation of Christ, and before I know it, I’m sound asleep. I know that doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement for such a wonderful book: “Read The Imitation of Christ and fall asleep.”

But I do heartily recommend this book because normally when I can’t sleep the reason is I have crazy, nonsensical, weird thoughts bouncing around in my mind, that I can’t stop, so I read the deep, yet down to earth, thoughts of Thomas a Kempis. I read a chapter or two until I hit upon a phrase or a sentence that speaks to my heart, and I memorize it. I repeat it over and over until it drives out all other insanity coursing through my brain, and then I am back asleep.

This last week there was a night that I couldn’t sleep and I started reading The Imitation of Christ, chapter 26, which Thomas a Kempis titled “Of the exaltation of a free spirit”. That is where I encountered the sentence “Give me courage to resist, patience to endure, constancy to persevere.”

That is a great prayer for all kinds of different situations that we might find ourselves in, but what Kempis had in mind is the Christian’s struggle between fleshly consolations with present delights and the love of eternal things. Kempis is praying for God’s help that he stay focused on eternal things that will never fade away, like love for God and man, paying attention to heavenly things, and the sweet unction of the Holy Spirit, and that he not be entangled by the necessities and pleasures of the body, or deceived by the world and its short glory.

That is a prayer that we should pray everyday because we live in a world that tempts us in every way to focus on the hear and now, to attain pleasure because we deserve it, and to indulge our desires because we only live once. Those are lies from the world and the devil and our flesh is most ready to believe them.

People talk about being free spirits, but we can only truly be free spirits when we cast off the weights of pride, untie the ropes of immediate gratification and break the chains of materialism. God give us the courage to resist worldly temptations, patience to endure to the end, and constancy to persevere in Your Way, no matter what the cost. Amen.

Cache la Poudre River, Colorado

I started a new series at the rehab center where I go to teach most Monday afternoons. I want the men there who are struggling with addictions to get the big picture of the Bible. Most have a favorite verse, or have memorized a passage or two that the staff thinks is important. They all know the popular stories like David and Goliath or the Prodigal Son. But not very many of them, if any, know how all the verses, passages and stories fit together in this incredible book known as the Bible.

I am using as my base, the introduction to my English/Spanish NIV Bible. It looks at the sacred scriptures as a drama in six acts. Act one is God’s intention and perfection in creation. Act two is exile; the fall of man. Act three is calling Israel to a mission. Act four – The surprising victory of Jesus. Act five – The renewed people of God. And finally, Act six – God comes home; God makes his home with us in a new heavens and a new earth.

I think this is a good way to look at how the Bible is a unified whole, with each verse, chapter and book relating to all the other verses, chapters and books. When I look at each act, I can clearly see how God loves us and wants us to be happy, from the first act in Genesis to the last act in Revelation.

One of the things that makes me happy when I look at the first couple chapters of Genesis and the last couple chapters of Revelation, are rivers. I love rivers. When I lived in Northern California, I would go to the Russian River almost every weekend to canoe, swim or just relax. When I lived in Colorado and my family would go camping, we always chose a campground next to a river. As a teenager, I loved to spend time exploring the nearby South Platte River. There’s just something soothing, yet exciting about rivers. They are always moving; always going someplace. Almost always getting bigger. And you never know what’s around the next bend.

Genesis two describes the beautiful Garden of Eden that God had made for Adam and Eve. It was full of all kinds of beautiful trees, but perhaps the most beautiful part of Eden was a “river that watered the garden.” (verse 10)

Revelation 21 and 22 describes the wonders of New Jerusalem that descends from heaven to earth. “It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel. (21:11)

The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.” (21:18)

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (21:23)

But my favorite thing about New Jerusalem is found in 22:1, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”

So there you have it. At the beginning of the Bible and the end – rivers. In the first act and the last act – rivers. The two most beautiful, incredible places in the Bible, the Garden of Eden and New Jerusalem – rivers. I don’t know about you, but I think God is partial to rivers. I think he is a fan.

Giving storm victims food in Tepanzacoalco, Oaxaca

The recent tropical storm Ramon caused a lot of damage to hundreds of towns in Mexico, and upset thousands of lives. One of the worst hit regions of Oaxaca, Mexico was San Juan Tepanzacoalco of San Pedro Yarani. The children’s home where my wife and I help care for dozens of kids, also has outreach programs and missionaries in different parts of Oaxaca. Tepanzacoalco is one of those areas.

The heavy rains and high winds caused a lot of mudslides in this mountainous region, which destroyed many homes and cause two deaths. People living in the hills had to move into downtown and live for awhile on the municipal basketball court, fearing that their house could be the next one washed down the mountain. These people needed food and blankets and our ministry, FFHM, was there to help. Our administrator, Johnny, and outreach directors, Yadira and Esteban, along with volunteers from the children’s home, drove six hours to deliver warm blankets and lots of food to all the people that were suffering in this community. They did good!

Yadira and a volunteer preparing to distribute blankets, bananas and eggs.

The apostle Peter writes about doing good:

“Repay evil with good, because to this you were called.” (3:9)

“Turn from evil and do good.” (3:11)

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (3:13)

“It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (3:17)

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (4:19)

It’s obviously important to Peter’s way of thinking to do good. But what does he have in mind when he writes of “doing good”?

We get a good idea by reading the rest of his letter. He mentions doing the will of God in 4:2. He says, “love each other deeply” in 4:8. He tells his readers to “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace” in 4:10, and “serve others with the with the strength God provides” in verse 11.

Doing good seems to be about loving and serving others. Helping those in need. Looking for those in need and asking ourselves how we can be the answer, or at least part of the answer to whatever problems they may be facing. Some need a hand out; others need a hand up. Some are close and others might be half a world a way. Some people may be suffering from a one time catastrophe, like 9/11 or hurricane Ida, and others from a life long addiction or malady. There are 101 ways we can do good today and this week. Sometimes it isn’t pleasant to good. We are not always “eager to do good”. Many times we need to go out of our way to help. It can cost us financially, emotionally or drain our time, but as another great apostle said once, “let us not grow weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9)

Chambers Lake, Colorado

A lot of times, when Christians talk about salvation, they talk about that one point in the past where they had their eyes open to God’s love and decided accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, and follow him. This is certainly one aspect of salvation. It is the aspect that Jen Wilkens, in the quote above, refers to as going from “wretch to redeemed in an instant”. But salvation is not only something that happened to us one time in the past, but it is also something that happens to us on a daily basis (sanctification), and something we will experience ultimately when we are in the immediate presence of God our Father (glorification).

The apostle Peter writes about salvation in the first two chapters of his first letter. In chapter one, verses four and five, he says, “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This is the Believers great hope for the future, and ultimate salvation – the inheritance that is kept in heaven for us.

In chapter two, verse one and two, Peter writes, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Here Peter is describing salvation as sanctification, a process. Not a one time thing, but a daily thing, where we grow like babies. Babies grow big and strong and develop because of their mothers nutritious milk. Baby Christians grow strong in the faith by constant ingestion of the Father’s milk, the Word of God. By taking in the the holy scriptures on a regular basis, we change from being conformed to this dark and wicked world, full of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander, and are transformed into God’s likeness, being able to recognize the good, the beautiful and the true (Rom. 12:1-2).

It’s kinda like the picture of Chambers lake above. At first glance it seems a beautiful scene with sunshine streaming through puffy white clouds onto a great body of water. But if you look closer, you can see that the trees on the big hill are black, not green. That’s because of a huge fire that passed through the area last year and burned hundreds of thousands of acres.

Living in this world can sometimes scorch our souls, leaving us burned over and lifeless. But when we encounter the wonderful, redeeming, healing love of Jesus, we begin to recover. We begin to see what life was intended to be. We start living life to the full and we have an eternity to glorify God and enjoy him.

A region near Chambers Lake, Colorado, that suffered a terrible fire in 2020.
One year later it is on the road to “salvation”.

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