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These are the three things that make up our lives.  What we do; what we want to do; what we should do.  Sometimes, rarely for me, they are all the same thing.  There is usually a bit of tension, or a lot of tension, between these three things.  Some would argue that there is no difference between what we do and what we want to do.  They say that people always do what they want to do.  If people wanted to do something else, they would do it.  They really don’t want to do something else, or they would do that instead.  I think that is true to some extent, but I also believe that there can be, and usually is, a struggle within our being of what we are doing in various situations, and what we would rather be doing.  That struggle is normally between our minds and our hearts. Between our intellect and our desires.

Think of your job.  Most people don’t really like their jobs, or if they do like their job, they can think of a different job that they would rather be doing.  I read a quote recently that said, “Choose a job you love and you will never  work a day in your life.”  I love that quote.  I think most of us can relate to, and even applaud the sentiment that is expressed.  If you love doing your job; if you wake up every morning looking forward to doing your occupation, then it seems more like play or an adventure than “work”.  You Do your job because you Want to do your job.

That is just one example of the tension many people encounter with doing something, and wanting to do that thing.  In most areas of life, from finances, to social life, to what we do in our leisure time, we can experience an inner struggle between what we are doing and what we want to do.

And, if the struggle between what we do and what we want to do is not enough, there is always another element to consider – What we Should do.

Consider the job example.  Perhaps a person has a job to do, a job they want to do, but there is a gnawing inside them that they should be doing something else.  They look at their job, and experience a certain amount of joy and satisfaction from that job, but occasionally they ask themselves, “in the end, Does it really matter?  Does it make a significant difference to anyone?  Am I alleviating pain and suffering for anyone but myself?  Am I helping to end world hunger or bring about world peace?  Am I doing anything to make the world a more beautiful place for anyone but myself and my family?  Should I really care about those things?  Ought I to concern myself with anyone but me?  And if so, Why?”

I believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  In his word to us he tells us many things that we should do.  Things that will make us happy.  He created us thus he knows what makes us happy.  All the things that we should do to be happy fall into two broad categories;  love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, And love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Think about when you fell in love.  Normally when we fall in love, we think about our boyfriend or girlfriend all the time.  We want to be with them all the time and can’t wait to receive a text message, email, phone call or letter from him or her.  We hang on every word from our beloved.  We give them cards and flowers and little gifts and big gifts. We talk and talk and talk and love being together. We do these things.  We want to do these things.  We should do these things.  It makes us happy to make them happy.

The same thing should happen with God.  He created us to be sublimely happy, full of joy, when we are in right relationship with him.  When we are spending time with him, reading his love letter to us, the Bible.  Our joy is increased when we are loving those in the community of faith as we love ourselves.  Our joy or happiness is complete when we venture into a hurting world and bring spiritual, physical and mental healing.

These things SHOULD happen with God and with others, but many times they don’t happen.  Martin Luther said that we struggle on a regular basis with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  These three enemies do not want us to love God and our fellow man.  They do everything in their power to keep our focus and energy and devotion on ourselves.

Do you struggle with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil?  Do you feel a tension within between what you do, what you want to do, and what you should do?  I do.  And you know what?  We are in good company.  The apostle Paul also battled.  In his greatest theological letter, the one he wrote to the Romans, he takes up a whole chapter talking about his personal struggle.  This mighty warrior of the faith, this saint of God, could have just left this portion of his epistle out, and it still would have been his greatest literary work.  But thank God he included it.  By writing the words that we call Romans seven,  He lets us know that it is normal to struggle with what we do, what we want to do, and what we should do.  Here’s the way he puts it:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  Romans 7:15-20

So this a normal human struggle, especially for a Christian who is trying to keep the commandments, who really wants to love God with all his or her being and really wants to love his or her neighbor as he loves himself or herself.  We find ourselves failing to meet this goal everyday, if not every hour.  It’s normal.  It is also normal to beat ourselves up about our failures.  But it is not acceptable to condemn ourselves.  Paul goes on to say in Romans eight that there is no condemnation from God for those who walk in the Spirit and not in the Flesh.  Walking in the Spirit doesn’t mean we don’t struggle, it means our goal in life is to love God and seek him first.  It means that we recognize our frequent failures and go regularly to our compassionate heavenly Father asking for forgiveness today and strength and insight for tomorrow to win more battles than we lose against the world, the Flesh, and the Devil.  We ask Him to  open the eyes of our hearts to the reality of What we do, What we want to do, and What we should do.

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kindness mother teresa

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garden2garden4garden3

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I have been teaching gardening classes to various groups of elementary students from Oasis elementary school here at the home for needy children in Oaxaca,Mexico, for the last year.  As I have been teaching and developing my curriculum, one number keeps popping up over and over.  The number three.  I try to relate gardening and plant needs to our everyday life and our needs as humans.  Below is a list of the “threes”  that I have been teaching.

Three things we want from a garden-
Order, beauty, abundance

Three things God wants from our lives-
Order, beauty, abundance

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Three things healthy plants need-
Sunshine, water, rich soil

Three things people need for healthy souls-
Light of God’s love (Sonshine), community (Church), Word of God (Bible)

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Three things an effective gardener needs-
Vision, patience, energy

Three things effective people need-
Vision, patience, energy

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Three things plants need from rich soil-
Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium

Three things people need from the rich Word of God-
Encouragement, guidance, correction

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Three things plants need for photosynthesis-
Sunlight, water, carbon dioxide

Three things people need to turn the love of God into growth-
Trust, compassion, action

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Three things water does to make happy plants-
Enables transference of nutrients from the soil to the rest of the plant
Facilitates root growth, protects against drought

Three things the Holy Spirit does to make happy people-
Comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, protects against the Evil One

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Three purposes of roots-
Provide stability for the plant, convert nutrients in the soil into useable food for the plant, holds the plant in place during storms

Three purposes of meditating on God’s Word-
Provides stability for the soul, converts everyday situations into occasions to glorify God, helps people stand firm in the midst of adversity

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The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden,

Than anywhere else on earth.–Dorothy Frances Gurney

There was a big crowd gathered around Joshua, waiting anxiously.  They had been waiting for this moment for a long, long, time.  The lots were cast, and the tribe of Judah was first.  Shouts went up from those tribe members, and then Joshua and the high priest, Eleazar, told them what their territory would be.  The land you will call home will extend down south to Edom, to the desert of Zin, to the bay of the Dead sea.  Your southern boundary will start from the bay at the southern end of the Dead Sea, cross south of Scorpion Pass, past Hezron and curve around to Karka, ending at the Mediterranean Sea.  The northern boundary will start at the mouth of the Jordan where it enters the Dead Sea, go up to Beth Hoglah and then to Beth Arabah ….  When the boundary lines were finished being given, the people of Judah were well pleased, especially Caleb, who was singled out to receive the town and hill country of Hebron.

Caleb remembered back to the first time he had ventured into that territory, as a spy, over forty years ago.  He

Caleb and Joshua with grapes from the promised land

Caleb and Joshua with grapes from the promised land

thought about the vineyard covered hills that produced incredibly huge clusters of the sweetest grapes that he had ever tasted.  He remembered the olive groves with branches bowing almost to the ground, heavy laden with large, ripe olives.  He thought of the lush, green pastures full of fat sheep and goats.  Those same pastures would surely  fatten up his large flocks with plenty of space left over for his children’s livestock and their children’s animals as well.  It was a dream come true.  Caleb would finally be happy in Hebron.

Caleb was 85 years old.  Joshua was about the same age.  They were the only two people of their generation that escaped the slavery and oppression of Pharaoh in Egypt and crossed the Jordan river into the Promised Land.  God had heard the cries of the Hebrews who were suffering in that land along the Nile, had compassion on them and chose Moses to be his instrument of delivering the chosen people from bondage.  At first the people rejoiced when they heard the message that God loved them and wanted them to be happy and was going to deliver them from the harsh Egyptian taskmasters.    But then they complained, because things got worse before they got better.

Caleb and Joshua were puzzled by the sad state of affairs and wondered how the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would save them.  They were suffering under the slave drivers and also felt the ill effects of some of the plagues that God was sending on the Egyptians.  They suffered and wondered what was going on.  They also must have thought of the stories of Joseph, who also suffered unjustly at the hand of Egyptians almost 400 years earlier.  They took comfort in the fact that God was with him, and ultimately exalted him to enjoy freedom, privilege and power, second only to the great Pharaoh himself.

Our day will come, they thought, if we believe and don’t give up hope.

They continued to believe. Hope ran strong in their hearts. The day came when they found themselves spreading lambs blood on their door posts.  Later that night the killing angel paid every family in the land a visit.  Those homes covered by the blood were spared death.  Those without suffered the death of their firstborn sons.  Egyptian families wailed in grief, begging the Hebrews to leave, and loaded them down with silver, gold and jewelry.  The first fruits of anticipated good things that were to come.

Pharaoh, too, had experienced loss, and knew when he was licked.  Finally, he let God’s people go.

The chosen people of God left at once, heading toward their new home.  Caleb rejoiced, but within two short years his joy was replaced by great disappointment.  Even though the Israelites had experienced a miraculous delivery from slavery by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of their loving God, they quickly turned their backs on Him by worshiping a golden calf, complaining about God’s plan, and then disbelieving that God would go before them and give them  a land flowing with milk and honey.

After spying out the Canaanite country of promise, Caleb and Joshua were fired up and excited to march in behind the great I AM and posses the fruitful land.  A land not just promised to Moses but also to the patriarch Abraham centuries before.  God had told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the beach.  And now was the time for the stars to shine and take the land.  But they failed to believe that God loved them and wanted them to be happy.  They chose to focus on “the giants in the land” rather then their Giant God.

God was furious with them and condemned them to wander in the wilderness until they were dead and there was a new generation that would trust him.  Caleb and Joshua were fiercely  disappointed, but were promised that one day they would take up residence in the territory beyond the Jordan.   Caleb remembered the words spoken to him by Moses, “The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.”

A new day finally dawned forty years later.  Forty years of waiting, of watching parents and siblings die in the desert.  Forty years of watching the people rebel and complain and succumb to the punishment of God.  The day finally came when a new set of spies were sent across the Jordan.  These spies came back with a report that the heathen people’s hearts were melting in fear of what would happen to them when the Mighty YHWH would lead His people in battle against them.  The day came when the “giants” of Canaan were routed by the Hebrews Giant God  and their land was free for the taking by the people of Israel.  The beautiful day came at last, when Caleb received his promised piece of the Promised Land and was happy in Hebron.

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Just as Noah had to tolerate the minority opinion of his day, so did Caleb and Joshua.  The respective faith of each in the integrity of the promise of God gives Noah victory over sarcasm and Caleb and Joshua victory over hostility.  The taunters and the incredulous, on the other hand, are denied the ark and the land.     Victor P. Hamilton in Handbook on the Pentateuch

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Annie with a child from the nursery

Last week a young lady at FFHM’s home for needy children here in Oaxaca,Mexico, gave a wonderful devotion.  Her name is Annie, she has a degree in psychology, and takes care of the nursery kids.  As we go through life we come across things that don’t make sense, that throw us for a loop, that make us crazy.  Annie said that when we experience these events or ideas that seem strange to us, we experience cognitive dissonance.  Basically we don’t know what to make of a certain situation or seemingly bizarre concept.

Annie talked about what people normally do when confronted with cognitive dissonance.  Most people ignore it as best they can.  Others get angry or sometimes depressed.  Annie suggested that we as Christians should “chew” on the issue.  We should meditate biblically and pray about things, ideas and concepts that go against what we conceive as normal or accepted behavior, rather than dismiss them outright.

She gave an example of a visit that she made to India.  She experienced cognitive dissonance when she saw a little girl sleeping by the side of a road at night clad only in ragged clothes and covered with a small, threadbare blanket.  Her mind couldn’t comprehend or deal with such a situation, so she turned her attention to some sleeping puppies on the other side of the road.  That she could understand, accept and deal with mentally.

We all run into the brick wall of cognitive dissonance at various times in our lives, and, the truth be told, we too, turn our vision in another direction.  We normally like to do things and think about things that are easy and within our comfort zone.  We really don’t like to be stretched.  Being stretched can hurt.

I recently had my own battle with cognitive dissonance.  There is a prison across the street from the children’s mission where I serve God.  I have been going there for years teaching English and sharing about God.  About a month ago I received a request from the director of the psychiatric ward at the prison.  He wanted me to come and teach English to the criminals with psychological problems.  My first thought was that it would be crazy to try and teach English to crazy criminals.

But then I prayed about.  I meditated on the idea.  I chewed on it.  God seemed to say that these prisoners are people that he loved and died for.  These are people created in his image, no matter what the Fall has turned them into and they need to be shown love as well.  Besides, you have been teaching Jr. High kids English for the past few months and this couldn’t be any worse.

So I went with our mission pastor, Enrique, to the prison to meet with the social worker in charge of the psychiatric ward.  She had all the prisoners gather on the basketball court, and I invited them to come to English class the following week.  Twenty-six men signed up.  The following Tuesday sixteen of them actually showed up, eager to learn English.  It went great.  They all paid attention and when I asked them if they wanted homework, they all shouted “Yes!”  How different from my Jr. Highers. Most of them appeared as normal as you or me.  If you met one on the street and spoke Spanish and had a chat with one of them, you would probably never guess they were in prison, let alone in a psych ward.  The mission Pastor, Aaron, had ministered to a few of them and found that many that he talked to were recovering drug addicts, and that is why they were in that part of the prison.

What kind of “cognitive dissonance” is staring you in the face?  What situation or idea that seems insane to you has reared its ugly head?  Before you dismiss it outright, or blow your top, why not chew on it awhile, and you just might hear a still small voice encouraging you to accept it as a gracious gift from God that will help you grow in your relationship with God and with man.

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As evening approached, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s getting late.  Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”  Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away.  You give them something to eat.”

Jesus feeding the five thousand, found in Matthew 14:13-21