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I have chicken coop dreams and orange tree visions. Am I okay?

My Father-in-law, Artimeo, gave my wife, Anita, and me, a piece of property shortly after we were married ten years ago. It’s right outside a little town called Union Zapata. It’s kinda small, the town and our property. Our piece of land is about one acre I guess, but is in a beautiful location. The piece of land is on top of a hill, with valleys on either side and mountains all around as far as the eye can see. It is surrounded by thorn bushes, cactus and dumb bird trees. What you can’t see are other houses. Our nearest neighbor is about a quarter mile away, which I love. The downside is that there is no electricity or water. Well, it’s a downside for some. For me it is kind of adventurous. I imagine us living off the grid with solar power and a huge cistern full of water to get us by.

So we are trying to build a tiny house. At the end of last year I was introduced to the concept of The Tiny House, and I was enchanted. I thought we would have to wait many years to save up money to build a house. We had waited ten years and had little savings for a house. But a tiny house doesn’t cost so much and you can build a little here and a little there as you get a few pesos, or dollars. So we started in January with a fence, a slab of concrete and a little shed. That’s where we are now.

Our propery, fence and shed. No chicken coop or orange trees – yet.

But you know what we think of most? A chicken coop and orange trees. Well, Anita thinks mostly about the chickens she wants to raise, and I dream about the chicken coop I want to build for her chickens.  I know exactly where it is going to go and what it will look like. I also have visions of orange trees. We live in Southern Mexico, in the state of Oaxaca, where the average daily temperature is 85 degrees. We can grow oranges. I am the gardener at a home for needy children and here we have about a dozen citrus trees that I have planted and that the children enjoy. I look forward to planting a few of my own orange trees on our property and enjoying the fruit of my labor, if you know what I mean.

So my wife is drying stale bread and old tortillas which will make excellent chicken feed, and I am sifting through our rock filled dirt and making a large pile of rich soil which I can use to plant the orange trees in.

I read in the Bible the other day, Proverbs chapter three, which declares, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

That reminded me of a verse in Psalms 37, “Trust in the LORD and do good … Take delight in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Both passages use the phrase, “Trust in the LORD.” Trust in the LORD means to believe that God loves you and wants you to be happy. To enable this to happen he has given us his Word, the Bible, to show us how to be happy. His Son, Jesus, came to earth to show us how to be happy. Jesus said the most important things that you can do to be happy, are to Love God with all your being, and to Love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s all fine and well, but what about chicken coops and orange trees. How do they fit into God’s plan for my happiness. What does chickens and oranges have to do with loving God and my neighbor.

Well, I’m not really sure. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. You see, I really do love God and reading and studying and meditating on the Bible. I like to think that I “take delight in the LORD.” So if I “take delight in the LORD” then he will give me the desires of my heart. That can be taken in two ways. One way to think about it is that all on my own I have developed the desire to go to Mexico and help poor children and plant flowers and trees and build a chicken coop and grow oranges. Or, it could mean that GOD has given me the desire to come to Mexico and help poor children and plant flowers and trees and and build a chicken coop and grow oranges. I lean toward the latter interpretation.

All of these things have made me happy, either doing them or thinking about them, in the case of the chicken coop and orange trees, and God loves me and wants me to be happy. He created me. He hard wired me. He installed the hardware and software in me. He knows what makes me tick. And that is helping poor children in Mexico, planting gardens and perhaps, just maybe, building a chicken coop and planting a couple of orange trees. I don’t understand it all, but am just trying to trust in the LORD.

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The book of Proverbs, in the Bible, is all about getting wisdom and wisdomknowledge.The good life, the happy life, consists of growing in wisdom and knowledge and reaping the benefits of those traits. Proverbs compares and contrasts those who seek wisdom and knowledge and those who reject wisdom and knowledge. The Wise and the Fools.

Chapters 1-9 consist of teaching about the importance of wisdom and knowledge and how to get them. In my pattern of Bible reading, I read a chapter of Proverbs every Saturday morning. Yesterday I read about the Wicked Men and Wayward Women.

Verses 12-15 say, “Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.”

Verses 16-19 follow with these words, “Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth, and ignored the the covenant she made before God. Surely her house leads down to death, and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.”

Verse 22 summarizes what happens to wicked men and wayward women, “the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.”

I see the results of wicked men and wayward women everyday here at the Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico. Wicked men and wayward women don’t care much for their children. They are abused, neglected and often abandoned, and many end up in special homes for children. Verse 14 mentions that the wicked men delight in doing wrong. Almost all of the children here at the mission have no contact with their fathers. Their fathers delight in making children, and disappear sometime after conception or birth when they discover that raising children is not so delightful.

Everyone wants delight. Everyone wants pleasure. Everyone wants joy. Everyone wants to rejoice. Everyone seeks these things. The book of Proverbs is all about these things. The wise find their joy and delight in God and following Him and His ways. The wise find pleasure in helping the poor and oppressed. They are generous to the downcast and fatherless; with the widow and orphan. The wicked – not so much.

We make choices everyday about what we are going to do to make us happy, to fill us with delight. Many think making money will make them happy. Money in the bank for security and money in the wallet to spend. Others, like the wayward woman, think ultimate pleasure is found in using their bodies in ways contrary to God’s Word and His ways. Sure, there is some measure of happiness and pleasure to be found in these things, but it is a fleeting happiness, and short lived pleasure. Usually the pleasures that the wicked men and wayward women encounter not only don’t last very long, but are ultimately harmful, painful and cause suffering for them and those around them.

Some of my favorite people in the world are those who come to this ministry in Southern Mexico to help for awhile. Some come with church groups for a week or so. Others come with family members and stay for a little bit longer periods of time. Some come by themselves and stay for months. All of these people have a joy that will never fade away, because, by giving of themselves and their time, talents and treasure to help the “least of these”; the poorest of the poor in this country, they are filled with a joy that will never fade away. Many of the visitors and volunteers that come to help the children say before they leave that they came to be a blessing to others and discovered that they had been blessed beyond belief by their time here helping others.

Psalm one presents us with two paths that we can choose to go down. The first is the path of the wicked which leads to destruction. The second is the path of the LORD, which leads to lasting delight and prosperity. God, help us to choose Your path and to meditate on your word, which you gave to us because you love us and want us to be happy.

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Happy Easter!

He is Risen!

The apostle Peter makes reference to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in the first three verses of his first letter.

In the first verse he writes that his letter is to God’s elect and in verse two he goes on to say, “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus and sprinkled with his blood.”

Whew. That’s a lot to take in. The part I have been focusing on these last few days is the sprinkled with his blood part. What did Peter have in mind when he wrote that? None of the followers of Jesus that were reading Peter’s letter had been sprinkled with his blood. What could he possibly mean? How did his early readers take that phrase? It must have something to do with the crucifixion, but what exactly?

The best book I have ever read on the crucifixion is called The Day the Revolution Began – Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion, by N.T. Wright. With regards to “sprinkled blood” he writes about the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and says, “This was where God met with his people; and, in order for this to take place, it was where the priest cleansed the sanctuary from the defiling effects of the past sins of Israel with the sprinkled blood of the sacrifice.”

So one thing that Peter is trying to communicate with God’s elect is that through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, the chosen ones are cleansed and can meet with God. Cleansed, meaning forgiven of all sins. Purified, white as snow. That’s how God now sees his followers through the lens of the sprinkled blood of Christ.

One other thing that probably came to mind when Peter wrote about the sprinkled blood, was the great Passover, when the Israelites killed a lamb and sprinkled its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Upon seeing the blood, the killer angel would pass by and spare any firstborn male in the house. The results of this last plague, was freedom for the Jews from the Egyptian slave masters. Similarly, the result of the sprinkled blood of Jesus is that God’s elect are set free from the Evil Slavemaster called Sin, and are free to worship the one, true God.

With regards to the resurrection, Peter writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Wow! New birth. Living hope. No more living in sin, being totally controlled by passion and pride. Because of the resurrection, we have  new birth, old things have passed away and all things have become new.

Because of Christ’s resurrection we have a living hope. Not dead hopes that many people in the world depend on. Dead hopes like a new job will make me truly happy. Or a new soul mate will fulfill my life. Or a good education is what I really need to live the good life. Those are just a few examples of dead hopes that people rely on to get them through each day. With the reality of the resurrection, Messiah followers have a living hope that brings true and lasting joy now and all the way into eternity.

Because God loves us and wants us to be happy, he has chosen us, sprinkled us with the blood of Jesus, rose from the dead with new life and living hope in his wake! No wonder Peter exclaims, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” and in verse six he writes, “In this you greatly rejoice…” And in verse eight, this, “You love him and believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Indeed we love him and rejoice greatly.

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God purifies his people in and through the shed blood of Jesus,

so that the covenant may be renewed,

and not just renewed,

but now effective for the whole world.

N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began