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The weather today in Oaxaca, Mexico, is perfect. It is a gorgeous day. Lots of blue sky and sunshine. I love it. It hasn’tgranted been like this for about three weeks. It has been cloudy and rainy. This morning I was talking to God about this beautiful day, or rather He was talking to me about it. He asked me if I liked the weather today. He asked me if I was happy. He asked me if the sunshine and blue sky made me happier than normal. I answered in the affirmative each time. He asked me if I had been taking the nice weather that we had been having in March, April and May for granted. I had to admit it. While most of the U.S. had been suffering unusually cold weather and lots of snow, we here in Oaxaca were enjoying temps in the 80’s and 90’s most everyday.

 

The point that God was making is that we have a tendency to take too many good things, too many blessings, too many gifts from the generous hand of our benevolent God, for granted. We don’t always acknowledge and thank God for simple things that make us so happy, like good health, delicious food, pure water, clean air and the ability to breath it. When, for some reason, God withholds these basic goodies, we are likely to complain and grumble. The apostle Paul admonishes believers over and over to give thanks to God, not just when we are fat and happy, but even in the lean times, for God is good all the time, and he always loves us and wants us to be happy.

 

I’m convinced that many times God withholds some blessings from us so that when they return to us we are happier than we were before. Take for example sickness. I hate being down with a cold or the flu. We all do. How thankful and full of joy we are when the sickness passes and we are feeling fine once again. Sometimes we even feel worse when a loved one is ill. My daughter’s, Sally and Kelly, had fevers and were coughing a lot last week and had to miss a few days of school. No parent likes to see their children suffer in any way, especially with an illness. After a visit to the doctor and taking some medicine they were feeling fine, and so was I. I wasn’t taking their good health and health care professionals for granted. I was thanking God for both, and was (and am) Happy for both.

 

My wife, Anita, has explained to our daughter’s about the importance of thanking God for all the food we have and eating everything on their plate, be cause there are a lot of poor children in the world who search through garbage dumps for something to eat. Our youngest daughter Kelly has taken this to heart and almost always asks to pray before meals. In her simple, four year old way of praying, she thanks God for our meal and  also that she does not have to eat trash.

 

So right now I am basking in the sunshine with a heart full of joy, praising our heavenly Father for the sunshine, and also for the eternal Sonshine that floods my soul.   I also need to ask forgiveness for all the times that I take for granted the incredible goodness that is always flowing from the hand of God. I ask God to remind me, that in those times when I feel something is lacking, that He is my Good Shepherd, and that in reality, I am never in need.

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be thankful

So who does the spiritual heavy lifting in our lives?  God or us?  I ask that question because when I read the Bible, sometimes it seems God is doing most of the work, and other times it looks like the onus is on us.  For example, Sunday morning I was reading Psalm 119.  One section was about God doing it all and a following section was about the followers of God doing everything.  Here are the two sections.

God

 vs. 33 – Teach me LORD, the way of your decrees.

vs. 34 – Give me understanding

vs. 35 – Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.

vs. 36 – Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.

vs. 37 – Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

vs. 38 – Fulfill your promise to your servant

Followers of God

vs. 44 – I will always obey your law

vs. 45 – I have sought out your commands

vs. 46 – I will speak of your statutes

vs. 47 – I delight in your commands because I love them.

vs. 48 – I reach out for your commands, which I love

  A couple of verses in Paul’s letter to the Philippians helps me see this quandary in a better light.  Paul writes in chapter two, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling – for it is God working in you to accomplish his good will.” This verse tells me, that at the heart of the matter it is not all God, nor is it all us.  God invites us to cooperate with him in our spiritual growth, our sanctification, our development of spiritual fruit and use of spiritual gifts. God does most of the hard work when it comes to accomplishing great things or triumphing in hopeless situations.  Many times he just invites along for the ride.

Three accounts from the Bible come to mind. The first is the story of Gideon.  God invites Gideon to cooperate with him in the defeat of the Midianites,  a powerful people bordering Israel.  The Midianites have a huge army and constantly harass and ravage the Jewish people; plundering their towns and stealing their crops.  God taps Gideon on the shoulder and tells him that he will be a great leader.  God will lead Gideon, and Gideon will lead an army to victory over the Midianites. His first job is to rid the land of idols, starting with his own community.  His own community is not very happy about this and want to kill Gideon.  Finally they come around and decide to follow him into battle against the enemy.  Eventually they raise an army of about 20,000 men, which doesn’t seem like much when you consider the Midianites  had an army of 100,000 plus.  For God, Gideon’s army was too big and it gets whittled down to 10,000 and then to 300.  Sometimes when you cooperate with God, less is more, in order that when the miracle occurs, God gets the glory!  The armies are facing each other, ready for battle-300 vs. 130,000.  Kinda seems like long odds and an impossible situation.  And it was – for the Midianites!   When God is on your side, and you are on God’s side, cooperating with him, it is the enemy that has no hope.  The Midianites were routed, retreated and demolished. That’s what happens when God invites us to participate in his vision and we follow him into battle.

The second account is that of King Hezekiah.  King Hezekiah was King of Judah and had his headquarters in the capital city of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was fortified with strong, tall walls, which was fortuate for Hezekiah and his people, because the Assyrian Army had surrounded Jerusalem and were finding it difficult to get inside.  This didn’t stop the Assyrian soldiers from issueing threats to the captive citizens of Jerusalem.  They demanded that the Jews surrender.  If they didn’t, they would eventually invade the city and kill the inhabitants.  In essence they were saying, “Don’t make us come in there!”

The king of the Assyrians was Sennacherib.  He and his army had come in from the north, smashing things, killing people and conquering nations.  Now Judah, Jerusalem and Hezekiah stood in his path of destruction.  He sent a letter to King Hezekiah telling him to surrender and things would go better for him and his people, rather than if his army had to break down the walls to get in.  He also declared to Hezekiah that the God of the Jews would not be able to overcome the god of the Assyrians.  “Our God can beat up your God” Sennacherib seemed to be saying.  Sennacherib boasted of the nations and their gods that he had defeated so far, and was confident that he would do the same to the nation of Judah and their God.

When Hezekiah read the letter he went to the temple, spread the letter out before God, and began to pray.  First, Hezekiah addressed God as the Almighty God who created heaven and earth and who is God over all kingdoms.  Second, Hezekiah told God that Sennacherib was ridiculing the living God.  Third, Hezekiah was realistic with God about his problem and the accomplishments of the Assyrian kings.  Fourth, he asked God to intervene and deliver the Jews so that all the kingdoms of the  earth would know that the LORD alone is God.

When we are facing a big problem that seems impossible for us to overcome, sometimes all we can do to cooperate with God is to pray and trust Him to resolve the situation.  We would do well to pray like Hezekiah.  First, recognize who God is – All Powerful and Good to His People.  God is bigger than our problem.  Second, that the problem might indicate to those around that God is not All Powerful and Good to His People.  Third, be realistic with God about the problem.  God already knows every detail of the problem, but when we bring it before Him, we are acknowleding our dependance on God to intervene in the situation.  Fourth, ask God for help.  I heard a story about one lady who had recently become a Christian, and she told her friends that she only had two prayers, “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you” and “Help me!  Help me! Help me!” Sometimes all we can do is cry out for help.

King Hezekiah woke up the next morning and there were 185,000 dead soldiers on his doorstep.  2 Kings 19:35 says that in the night the angel of the LORD went out and put the soldiers to death.  Deliverance!  Sometimes all we can do to cooperate with God in our hour of tribulation is to pray, and sometimes that is  enough.

The third account that comes to mind is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John chapter 11.  A bad problem turns into an impossible situation, and then Jesus asks some people to cooperate with him in accomplishing and impossible work.

Lazarus is very sick and needs his friend Jesus to come and heal him, as Jesus has done thousands of times before with other sick people.  Instead of rushing to his bedside, Jesus stays away for a couple of days before making the long journey to Bethany.  At Bethany he encounters his grieving friends, Mary and  Martha, sisters of Lazarus.  Mary and Martha are upset at Jesus and say to him, “Our brother wouldn’t have died if you would have gotten here sooner!”

Jesus goes to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  It is here that Jesus invites the mourners to participate with Jesus in a miracle.  He tells them to roll away the large stone. Martha objects, telling Jesus, “Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Two things about Martha’s statement: 1, she says he has been dead four days, which is signficant because the Jews believed the spirit of the person hung around the body for three days, making it possible for them to renter the body. Lazarus has been dead four days, making the death seem eternally permanent.  So, for the mourners and crowd, Lazarus’ resurection was indeed impossible. 2, When Jesus asks us to cooperate with him in miracle making, sometimes it’s hard work,  like rolling the stone away, and, sometimes it initially stinks.  God may ask us to do something unpleasant, disagreeable, out of our comfort zone. It might stink physically, mentally or emotionally.  But when we trust God, do what he says, incredible things can happen! Once the stone was rolled away, Jesus prayed to the Father, and then spoke to Lazarus, saying, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus came out and the people were amazed.

God came through in an impossible situation once again. When we as individuals or as a community of faith face seemingly impossible situations, whether they be financial, familial, or physical, we don’t have to do the impossible by ourselves.  We can invite God into our situation, and he will invite us to cooperate with him in resolving the problem, sometimes working a miracle.

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C.S. Lewis

“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

― C.S. Lewis