You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Christianity’ category.

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”.

God loves us and wants us to be happy! That’s plain to tell from 1 Peter chapter one. In the opening verses Peter writes of the sanctifying work of the Spirit, grace and peace in abundance, great mercy, the new birth, resurrection of Jesus and being shielded by God’s power. Then he writes that in “all this you greatly rejoice.” In verse eight he says that “you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy and the salvation of our souls. Sounds like a lot of good things to be happy about. Kind of like a little flower garden that is blooming profusely.

But there are always weeds to contend with. After Peter exclaims the blessings of God, he mentions that life is not all pretty colors and nice fragrances. He says, “though now, for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Someone may ask, rightly so, “If God loves us so much and wants us to be happy, why do some of us have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials?”

The answer is so that we will be happier in the long run than we would otherwise be. Peter says the grief and trials come to prove the genuineness of our faith. Our faith is proven valid and strengthened through the hard times, frustrations, disappointments, and problems that we encounter along life’s merry (or not so merry) way. Peter assures us that when we come out the other end of our dark tunnel, that we will receive praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

My family and I are in Colorado for a couple weeks visiting my dad and sister’s family. We went out to Sterling Reservoir yesterday for a picnic and ride on my dad’s old boat. My dad and I got the boat on the lake and were just starting to enjoy the ride, when a boat alarm came on. The water pump had failed and we had to head back to shore, disappointed. My daughters had been looking forward to a fun trip around the lake on Grandpa’s boat, but it was not to be. They too were disappointed.

When something happens that doesn’t go along with my plans, I try to replace my negative thoughts with God thoughts. I have to remind myself that God loves me and wants me to be happy, and his plans for me are always better than my plans for me. So I try to change grumbling for praising. It doesn’t always work however, so then…

I think about how things could be worse. For instance, I thought of my father-in-law who lost his wife about a month ago, his brother about a year ago. His son has down syndrome and he will be responsible for caring for him the rest of his life, without the help of his wife, who had been the major caretaker. On top of all that, he has had knee problems for the last few years and it has gotten progressively worse. Recently he began using canes to walk.

Not being able to go on a boat ride hardly compares.

I think that is the main message Peter is trying to get across to believers. You are all probably going to go through some tough times when things aren’t going the way you expected them to go. What to do? Well, you can choose to focus on the bad things and worry, fret or complain, Or, you can focus on God’s abundant grace and mercy; Jesus’ resurrection and our inheritance waiting for us in heaven; our sure hope in God’s promises and his peace that surpasses all understanding, while being shielded by his power and looking forward to our ultimate salvation.

Doesn’t hardly seem to compare, does it?

***********************************************

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

I think about that quote by John Maxwell almost everyday. I first heard him say it a few years back when the staff at the home for needy children here in Oaxaca, Mexico, would meet once a month to watch leadership videos. Usually I didn’t take notes at these video presentations, but John Maxwell was a quote machine, and I couldn’t stop my note taking. Now, I don’t remember most of his quotes, but this one has stayed with me-

Anything worthwhile is uphill.”

I think of it almost everyday, because I experience it almost everyday. I am the gardener here at the mission, and it’s not an easy job, especially with all the rain that we have received lately. We have about 8 acres of land, that for the last 16 years I have been trying to convert to a garden. Mostly by myself, although I am extremely grateful for the help that visiting groups from the U.S. and Canada have given me over the years, as well as the help I occasionally receive from the teen boys who live here.

I believe that God loves us and enables us to thrive and relish life most by investing our lives in Making Beauty, Doing Good and Living Truth. For me, Making Beauty consists of digging out thorn bushes with five foot roots; cutting down weeds that are taller than I am; fighting ants that can eat every leaf off a bush or tree overnight; mowing and weed-whacking grass that seems to grow twice as fast as I can cut it; and dealing with children who think it great fun to beat rose bushes and geraniums to smithereens. I have to constantly remind myself that “anything worthwhile is uphill!”

For me, Doing Good means helping the children here at the mission in a dozen different ways, from driving them to school, to assisting my wife in the nursery with the toddlers, to going into town and buying food and supplies.

For me, Living Truth means primarily reading, studying and meditating on the Bible, then sharing the Truth with my family, the Mission and the men at the rehabilitation center.

As I have been pondering the notion that “anything worthwhile is uphill“, I have also come to the realization that the reverse (or other side of the tortilla, as my Mexican wife would say) is also true. In other words, “anything not worthwhile is downhill.”

It is possible for us to waste a lot of time and forfeit the flourishing that God intends for us by doing things that are easy, entertaining, and fun, but that make no positive lasting impact on our lives or our world. Things that do not make the world a more beautiful place, or do good to anyone, or share gospel truth. I think of things like streaming Netflix series, watching sports, obsessing about politics and news, or twitter feeds, Instagram pics and Facebook, just to name a few.

When I look back on my life when I lived in the United States, I realize that I wasted a lot of time on worthless things; some of the things I mentioned above. I could have been Making Beauty and Doing Good and sharing Truth, but instead I delighted on the “downhill” things of life that brought me pleasure, but didn’t result in the betterment of my life or anyone elses life.

So, now I spend my days trudging uphill, Making Beauty, Doing Good, Living Truth-shunning most of the “downhill” distractions like social media, sports broadcasts, tv series, movies and the news, and I couldn’t be happier. Can you believe it? You could if you tried it.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

When I was a kid, I was wild for Samson. I guess most Christian kids are. He’s an ancient Superhero, and what kid doesn’t like Superheros? Samson, the super strong Israelite, whipping the oppressive Philistines with incredible feats of daring do.

I got older and took another look at Samson and found him an incredibly flawed human being. Dishonoring his parents and his vows before God. Looking for love in all the wrong places with Philistine women. Not to mention his cruelty to animals (remember the 300 foxes?). It didn’t take too hard a look at his life for him to fall off the pedestal that I had put him on.

And then about a month ago I heard a teaching series about Samson from Robert Godfrey and Ligonier Ministries. His main text about Samson was not found in Judges 13-16, where the story of Samson is found, but in Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith. The writer of Hebrews say in verses 32-34, “I do not have time to tell about … Samson… who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouth of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”

It was an incredibly interesting series, and once again my view of Samson has shifted. No, he hasn’t returned to pedestal status, but I see a flawed man, who, nonetheless had great faith in God, and was used by God despite his weakness. In fact Hebrews says that God turned his weakness to strength. Hmm? Sounds like me. Maybe you too?

J.I. Packer died about a year ago on July 17. His writings and online sermons meant a lot to me and helped me grow in the Christian faith. Below are some quotes that are meaningful to me, and I hope will be to you as well.

We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.

Every Christian’s life-purpose must be to glorify God. This is the believer’s official calling. Everything we say and do, all our obedience to God’s commands, all our relationships with others, all the use we make of the gifts, talents, and opportunities that God gives us, all our enduring of adverse situations and human hostility, must be so managed as to give God honor and praise for his goodness to those on whom he sets his love (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Matt. 5:16Eph. 3:10Col. 3:17). Equally important is the truth that every Christian’s full-time employment must be to please God. . . . Pleasing God in everything must be our goal (2 Cor. 5:9Col. 1:101 Thess. 2:4; 4:1)

What Scripture says, God says; for, in a manner comparable only to the deeper mystery of the incarnation, the Bible is both fully human and fully divine.

There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him, and contentment in Him.

smart

“It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on a Sunday.” General Stonewall Jackson, Confederate Leader

Stonewall Jackson was accidently wounded by his own men at the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. He suffered for a few days before he died. He was told by his doctor on Sunday, May 10, that he would probably not last the day. Later that day General Pendleton stopped by to tell him that all his troops were praying for him. That was when Jackson, in a sense, said that his prayer was already answered, for he had “always desired to die on a Sunday.”

Josefina Maceda, my mother-in-law, my Madre, died this last Sunday at the children’s home in Oaxaca, Mexico. I don’t know if it was a desire of hers to die on the Lord’s Day, but I wouldn’t be surprised. She loved the Lord’s Day. She loved going to the House of God to worship her Savior. It’s comforting to know that she is enjoying God eternally in His celestial House.

Saturday morning, as is my want, I read a chapter from Proverbs. It was chapter 28. I read a couple of verses that were at first comforting, and then disturbing, and then encouraging once again.

Verse 20 says, “A faithful person will be richly blessed…”

Verse 25 says, “those who trust in the Lord will prosper.”

I have always liked those verses and highlighted them in my Bible many years ago.  But this time, I doubted.  I know of few people who faithfully trusted in the Lord like Madre. Yet she didn’t seem to be richly blessed and prospering. She had been bed ridden for at least a week. In pain. Skin and bones. Every breath a groan.

I thought if that is what it means to be richly blessed and prospering, then I’ll pass, thank you very much!

I took my doubts to God. God reminded me of Romans 12:1-2, especially the part where Paul writes, ” Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

God was telling me that faithful people who trust in the Lord have renewed minds. They don’t think like the world does. They have different definitions for things like blessings and what it means to prosper.  The world thinks money, power and health are what prospering is all about. God says we prosper and are blessed when we love others deeply and are loved deeply by others and have a hope that will never fade away. Madre had all those.

That put a new light on things, and I saw that even in the midst of her suffering, she was truly blessed and prospering. She was surrounded by family that she deeply loved and who deeply loved her. She had deeply loved and blessed people from all over the world – United States, Canada, Germany and Japan, to name just a few. These people have been showing their deep love for her ever since she received the cancer diagnosis by supporting her with financial help and prayers. One neighbor came the last month of her life, almost everyday for at least an hour to pray with her, for her, and to sing to her, even though Madre couldn’t respond most of the time during her last days.

Looking at the situation from that Godly, renewed mind-point of view, I came to the realization that she was indeed richly blessed and prospering beyond all measure. I will take that blessing everyday and twice on Sunday!

Right before General Stonewall Jackson breathed his last, his doctor recorded that “Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face.”

I had never been with someone when they died before. I’m glad to say I got to be with Madre. And I was glad to see that just before she went home to the Father, she too smiled a smile of ineffable sweetness. It was as if she saw the Lord, like Stephen did in Acts 7, welcoming her into his eternal Kingdom with outstretched arms.

These last few days I have been thinking a lot about what Paul wrote to the Romans in chapter eight, verses 18 and 23.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us…We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

If only we all had that attitude and perspective. What a way to live! What a way to die!

Chlorophyllum rhacodes (Shaggy Parasol) growing in the decaying leaves and moldering twigs in Oaxaca, Mexico

We have gotten a lot more rain than usual here at the children’s home in Oaxaca, Mexico. Everything is nice and green and mushrooms of different shapes, sizes and colors are popping up all over the place, some as big as a dinner plates. I find them fascinating and have been doing some research on them. I have come to the conclusion that Christians are a lot like mushrooms, at least in two respects.

One thing I learned is that mushrooms grow best in places that are wet or really damp. We have received more rain this last June and now into July than I can ever remember in my 16 years of living here. So that explains the surge in ‘shrooms. They grow especially good in dead, decaying and moldering matter, like old leaves and sticks, exactly the place I found Old Shaggy, pictured above.

Christians actually grow and even thrive in exactly the same kind of environment. The Bible describes this world and its systems as dead, decaying and moldering. Yet Christianity, as the proverbial mustard seed, has been growing like crazy, not just in spite of pain, suffering and persecution, but because of it. Throughout the centuries different cultures and regimes have been trying to systematically snuff Christianity out, and yet it has grown into the largest religion on the planet.

I read an article recently in Christianity Today about how, in the past, the missionaries were kicked out of China, and church leaders feared for the future of the church in that country. Not to worry. Christianity grew from a few thousand believers to millions of believers within the following generations. Now it seems the same thing is probably occurring in North Korea; an expanding underground church amidst the worlds worst persecution of the church.

But not only the Church Universal grows amongst the death and decay of the world, but so do individual Christians. We all experience times of trials and tribulation, sorrow and suffering, frustration and failure. These are times of rotting leaves, moldy twigs and decaying branches. Times where we not only grow, but flourish. With these kind of experiences I think of Joseph and all he had to endure during his life. Sold by jealous, spiteful brothers into slavery. Falsely accused of a capital crime and tossed into prison. Forgotten by a fellow inmate he had helped out, he languished in jail. And then what? Next thing you know, he is second in command in the most powerful empire in the world.

When those same brothers came to him begging for food, he could have extracted sweet revenge, but instead he told them, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” He was able to say that because over and over Genesis reminds us that God was with Joseph. God is still in the “making good out of evil” business as we can plainly see in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to those who love God…” Even those decaying, moldering things.

The second way I see that Christians are like mushrooms is mycelia. I learned about mycelia from Emma Erler who is a landscape and greenhouse specialist at the University of New Hampshire. She writes, “Mushrooms will go away on their own once the weather dries out. Keep in mind that although these fruiting bodies have disappeared, the fungal mycelia is still growing in the soil. The fungus will continue to grow and persist as long as there is plenty of organic matter to feed upon.”

I found that to be very interesting. Mushrooms are only the fruit of a much vaster, invisible fungus network that lives underground. When the mushroom dies, the plant continues to live and grow and have its being. That makes me think of all the Christians who have died, yet a part of them continues to live and influence us who are living. I especially think of Christian writers from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Stott and C.S. Lewis, to name just a few. They are all dead, but their ideas, theology and insights continue to live and spread through the world with their words, just like mycelia.

So, if anyone should happen to tell you that you remind them of a mushroom, take it as a compliment. You are growing strong through the murky mire of decay; the stench and darkness of this present world, because God is with you, just as he was with Joseph. And, after you are gone to be with the Father, your mycelia, your love, grace, compassion and kindness will continue to live on in all those you cared about and helped.

Mushrooms and Christians. Who knew?

Happy Fourth of July!

What is it about planting a tree that makes the world a little more beautiful, and the person who plants it a little more hopeful about the future?

Maybe it’s the idea that, given the right conditions, the tree will grow. The tree will grow bigger than the person who plants it. Usually much bigger. Planting a tree reminds us that there are things bigger than ourselves. And the tree will live a long time, probably longer than the person who put it in the ground. Planting trees reminds us that we have good things to look forward to.

And the tree will occupy a space that otherwise might have been bare, or ugly or choked with weeds, and will bring a type of beauty to that space that will be hard to match as the years go by. Planting trees also makes our inner space more beautiful.

And the person who plants the tree, the planter, will look at the tree, gaze at the tree, and will have a sense of the past, present and future, all at once. The planter will remember when his or her hands dug out some dirt from the earth to make a little hole, placed a sapling in the hole, and tucked the little tree into its place, tamping the dirt gently around its tender roots. The planter will also see how beautiful the tree is at the present. “My how it has grown” and imagine what it will look like as it continues to mature – five, ten or fifteen years down the line. And the planter will smile.

Perhaps some of these thoughts were running through Martin Luther’s head when he wrote about planting his apple tree in an uncertain time. Maybe he was thinking of his God who gives strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Maybe he was thinking that he might not be around for too many more tomorrows, but his apple tree would.

Last Sunday, a group of Venezuelans, who live in Oaxaca, Mexico, came to the home for needy children to plant some trees. One hundred and three to be exact. They invited the children to help them and the kids responded with great enthusiasm. It was a blessed, happy thing to see adults and kids, Mexicans, Americans and Venezuelans, males and females, all working together to not only make this children’s home a more beautiful place, but the world a better place.

And to make their hearts a better space.

Venezuelans, living in Oaxaca, Mexico, come to FFHM’s children’s home with 103 trees and we all work together to get them in the ground.

He that plants trees, loves others besides himself. Thomas Fuller

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.