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Today is Ash Wednesday. The one day of the year when many Christians all over the world will have ashes put on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. This marks the beginning of Lent, a time of waiting in expectation of Easter- Resurrection Sunday. A time of contemplation and inner examination. A time of anticipation and adoration. A time of waiting.

When we wait, we choose. Sometimes we choose to grumble and complain. Sometimes we choose to get frustrated or worried. At times we choose to rejoice and give thanks. Many times our choice depends on what we are waiting for. More often than not, it depends on the kind of person we are. Ultimately we wait patiently or impatiently. It all depends on what’s inside us.

I have read an article and a book recently that have greatly impacted my perspective on patience and what it means to be a patient person. The article is called Silence, Patience and Presence. It is from Fuller Studio. The book is called Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren. Below are some quotes from both that I hope will impact you as much as they did me.

From Silence, Patience, and Presence – Fuller Studio

Being patient means waiting for a God whose patience outdistances and outlasts our own – we only have a brief span of life to wait; God has eternity. Peter Blum

Christians believe that through cross and resurrection we have been given the time to be patient in a world of impatience I am often in a hurry and busy, but this is not the same thing as impatience. Patience does not mean “doing nothing.” Rather patience is sticking to what you’re doing because you believe that is is worthy and worthwhile. Stanley Haurwas citing John Howard Yoder

Learning to weep, learning to keep vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human. Henri Nouwen

Ones willingness to be wronged, to absorb evil patiently without retaliating, helps to break the cycle of vengeance and opens up the possibility for healing and peace. Hence though forgiveness is a constitutive practice of peace, forgiveness is unimaginable apart from patience. Philip Kenneson.

Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life. Simone Weil

From Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Warren

When we practice the Sabbath, we not only look back to God’s rest after his work of creation but we look forward to the rest ahead, to the Sabbath to come when God will finish his work of re-creation. We recall together that we are waiting for the end of the story, for all things to be made new.

In the liturgical year there is never celebration without preparation. First we wait, we mourn, we ache, we repent. We aren’t ready to celebrate until we acknowledge, over time through ritual and worship, that we and this world are not yet right and whole. Before Easter, we have Lent. Before Christmas, we have Advent. We fast. Then we feast. We prepare. We practice waiting.

We want happiness now. Fulfillment and gratification now. I get angry when I have to wait because it reminds me that time is not at my bidding.

Our problem with time is a spiritual problem, one that runs right to the core of who we are as human beings…. Indeed, these distortions drive us into the arms of a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. (Dorothy Bass)

Time is a gift from God, a means of worship. Time revolves around God – what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do.

We live in a waiting world, a world where time itself, along with all of creation, groans in childbirth, waiting for something to be born. We are waiting and hoping. Our present reality is fundamentally oriented toward what is to come.

Waiting is an act of faith that is oriented toward the future. Yet our assurance of hope is rooted in the past, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and in his promises and resurrection. In this way, waiting, like time itself, centers on Christ-the fulcrum of time.

Scripture tells us that when we “Hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:25). We live each ordinary day in the light of a future reality. Our best life is still yet to come.

I have a friend who has struggled with cancer for a long time. She said to me one day,”I always felt like I was waiting for the gift. But I have come to see that the waiting is the gift.” There is more happening while we wait than just waiting. God is at work in us and through us as we wait. Our waiting is active and purposeful.

The church father Tertullian wrote –

The singular mark of patience is not endurance or fortitude, but hope. To be impatient is to live without hope. Patience is grounded in the Resurrection. It is life oriented toward a future that is God’s doing , and its sign is longing, not so much to be released from the ills of the present, but in anticipation of the good to come.

Even now as we wait, God is bringing the kingdom that will one day be fully known. We can be patient because we know there are gifts promised by a Giver who can be trusted.

May your Lent be filled with peace, the presence of God, and patience.

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Valentines Day is coming up. The day of love and romance. A day where people will celebrate love – love for spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends. They will celebrate with things they love, like roses, candy and wine. At least in the United States. Here in Mexico it is also know as dia de amistad, day of friendship. People will not only do something with a romantic interest, but friends will take time out to express their love for each other in special ways.

It’s too bad English only has the one word “love”. We love our spouses or romantic partners. We love chocolates and flowers. We love our friends. We love our mother. Other languages have different words for different kinds of likes and attractions. The Bible uses that English word “love” many times, but in it’s original languages of Hebrew and Greek, it has different words to express different types of love. One main word the Old Testament uses for love is “hesed” or “chesed”. The word Hesed or Chesed/Cheset is connected with love, goodness and kindness but means more, a bit like the English word “charity” “mercy” or “grace”.

Greek uses words like “eros”, “storge”, “philea” and “agape”. Eros refers to “passionate love” or romantic love; storge or familial love; philia to friendship as a kind of love; and agape refers to “selfless love“, the kind of love God has for us and wants us to have for one another and for him. Agape love is more about Devotion to God and to our fellow human beings. The other loves are more about emotional attachments or attractions.

The Bible has a lot to say about agape love. Jesus said the two most important commandments of the Old Testament are about love –

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your

soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.

(Matthew 22:37-40)

Love is devotion to God and neighbor.

Jesus gave concrete examples of love in Matthew 25:35-40 when he said –

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.

I was a stranger and you invited me in.

I needed clothes and you clothed me.

I was sick and you looked after me.

I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him,

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?

When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink?

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?

When did you need clothes and we clothed you?

When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King (Jesus) will reply,

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these,

brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Lots of devotion and commitment to helping others. Not so much emotion.

Paul wrote a lot about love. Many people call chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians the love chapter –

Love is patient, love is kind.

Love does not boast, it is not proud.

Love does not dishonor others,

love is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil

but rejoices with the truth.

Love always protects, always trusts,

always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

We can see the devotion and a little emotion.

Paul also prays for the Ephesians –

I pray to the Father, that you,

being rooted and established in love,

may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people,

to grasp how wide and long and high and deep

is the love of Christ, and to know this love

that surpasses knowledge.

(Ephesians 3:14-19)

More devotion; no emotion.

1 John tells us –

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Whoever does not love does not know God,

because God is love. This is how God showed his love for us:

He sent his one and only son into the world

that we might live through him. (1 John 4:7-9)

Great devotion.

I like what C.S. Lewis says about loving our neighbor –

“Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor;

act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.

When you are behaving as if you loved someone,

you will presently come to love him….Whenever

we do good to another self, just because it is a self,

made like us by God, and desiring its own happiness

as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love a little more,

or, at least, to dislike a little less.”

(Mere Christianity)

Maybe, in the end, it is all about emotion. Perhaps, when we are devoted to doing God’s will and helping those around us, we will be happier people. It could be that God loves us and wants us to be happy, and the road to emotional happiness and well being, goes through Devotion. This Valentines Day, lets try some Devotion, some good old fashioned Agape Devotion, and see what kind of emotions we have at the end of the day.

Next week, Foundation For His Ministry’s Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico, will celebrate twenty years of existence. Twenty years of helping the poorest of the poor. Two decades of making disciples, of meeting the physical, emotional and educational needs of children who have been abandoned, abused and neglected. Casa Hogar (as it is called in Spanish) has been following God’s call and God’s example of making beauty, sharing truth and doing good.

Twenty years ago this 14 acre plot of land in the Tlacolula Valley was nothing but a half finished building and a lot of big thorn bushes. Now it is a place of beauty, with many gardens and wonderful architecture.

Mission Courtyard
Flowers and Fountain

Twenty years ago leaders of Foundation For His Ministry began sharing truth with people of the region. The indigenous people like the Zapotecs, Mixes, Mixtecs, as well as native Mexicans heard the Good News that God loves them and wants them to be happy; that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life; that through Jesus they can have peace with God and live an abundant, eternal life. Oaxacans from pre-school age to old age heard the truth about life and death; good and bad; heaven and hell. Pastors and missionaries went into area prisons and remote mountain villages preaching hope, restoration and renewal to those who felt hopeless, helpless and lost. Children from the Home learned and continue to be taught the truth of God and his Word in morning devotions, Sunday School, church services and youth conferences. They learn the truth of God’s World in our primary school called Oasis. They also hear and apply truths at special events like swim camps and at mountain retreats.

Needy Children Who Learned to Love One Another
Hearing the Truth
Sharing the Truth of Jesus Birth

Twenty years ago, missionaries from FFHM came to Oaxaca with a vision of doing good. A vision of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick and taking in the stranger. For two decades servants of Christ have been cooperating with God, FFHM, local and regional authorities to make a difference in the Kingdom of God and Oaxaca’s seven regions. Doing good by meeting felt needs, and more importantly, meeting the deep spiritual needs of people in southern Mexico who are walking in darkness. FFHM has been bringing the Light of Life to thousands of lost souls for these last twenty years, and, God willing, for the next 20 years and more.

Feeding the Hungry
Learning to Garden
Mixing Concrete to Build a School

Sometimes I wonder if people read accounts like this and think that we must be some sort of Super Hero Christian Saints. We are not super hero Christian saints. We are just ordinary people doing ordinary things following an extraordinary God as best we can. God has opened our eyes to certain needs and we clumsily walk along the path that God has put before us to travel. We are sinners who have been forgiven. We are beggars who have found some bread and share with other beggars. We do the best we can to love God with all our being and love our neighbors as ourselves, and we fail mightily everyday. We hope to find God’s strength in our weakness. We pray for grace in our times of need, which are often. We could all easily pray the prayer of Saint Thomas A Kempis in his classic book The Imitation of Christ –

O God,

Deal with us according to your loving-kindness,

not according to our wickedness and iniquity.

We offer unto you all our goodness,

though it is exceedingly little and imperfect,

that you may mend and sanctify it,

that you may make it well pleasing and acceptable in your sight,

and ever draw it on towards perfection;

and furthermore bring us safely,

slothful and useless poor creatures that we are,

to a happy and blessed end.

May we feel ourselves assisted by your grace, enriched by consolation,

protected from dangers, freed from pains;

and that being delivered from all evils

we may joyfully give you exceeding thanks.

Pardon our sins and mutual offenses.

Take away, O Lord, from our hearts all suspicion,

indignation, anger, and contention,

and whatsoever is able to injure charity and diminish brotherly love.

Give grace to the needy,

and make us such that we may be worthy to enjoy your grace,

and go forward to the life eternal.

Amen.


Orientation is important. Perhaps the most important part of life. Here are some definitions:

Noun – the determination of the relative position of something or someone (especially oneself)

The relative physical position or direction of something

The adjustment or alignment of oneself or one’s ideas to surrounding or circumstances

In high school and college I went to freshman orientations. These were intended to help new students orient themselves with the geography of the school. I learned where the library, cafeteria and different classrooms were. After orientation I always knew where these places were, no matter where I was. That was important. To this day I have bad dreams that I am in some large school and I am disoriented and can’t find my class, or worse yet, the bathroom, and I really need to go!

Orientation is important for everyone. Orientation is not just knowing where we are spatially, but also knowing where we are mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Many people’s lives are oriented around the wrong things. For example, some people orient their lives around money and the accumulation of wealth. Acquiring wealth makes them happy, at least for awhile. With money they have a house, a car, a savings account. They can have nice clothes and eat at the best restaurants. With wealth they have security and status. They know where they are by how much money they have.

Other people orient themselves around sex or drugs or power or education or family or work or politics. There are countless things we can orient ourselves around. Good things and bad things. I am reminded of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Verse 40 tells us that Martha was oriented around all the preparations that had to be made. Her orientation led her to be “worried and upset about many things.”

Mary on the other hand, sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. Her orientation was Jesus. Jesus told Martha that “few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

May I suggest that we choose to orient our lives around Jesus? I recently read about a comedian whose life was oriented around being a comic. He couldn’t imagine his life oriented around anything else. Then he heard about Jesus, and how he would live a happier, more complete, more contented life, if his life was oriented around this God/Man. He didn’t believe it. He fought against it. But he couldn’t get Him out of his mind. Finally he gave in. In his words, he began to orient his life around God, and discovered, quite to his surprise, he was happier, more complete and more content.

I like that he used the word “orient”. Some Christians use the words Saved, Born Again, Converted, Redeemed or Rescued. Those words indicate important aspects of what it means to be a God Follower, but not the entire package. I think the the concept behind the phrase “to orient myself around God” encapsulates the entirety of what it means to be a Christian. When I orient myself to God, my whole life, every moment becomes related to God who loves me and gave himself for me.
There are many Bible verses that refer to this kind of orientation:

Seek first the kingdom of the heavenly Father and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5,6)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37,38)

Rejoice always, pray continually give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


My life is oriented around God at a mission that helps needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico; a mission run by FFHM. Our mission statement states that we exist to make disciples of Christ. A disciple is one whose life is oriented around the teachings and practices of a person or organization. We aim to orient the poorest of the poor in Mexico to lives centered on Jesus. This ministry takes in children whose lives have been oriented around abuse and poverty, neglect and rejection. Showing them the love of God by meeting their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs enables them to reorient themselves toward a better life. Once they see themselves as dearly loved children of God and orient their lives around that truth, they are able to live happy, fulfilled lives.

We all want to be happy. God created us in his image; he created us to be happy. We can all be incredibly happy. It just takes the right orientation.

mex indp1

What do you get when you combine dozens of children, the colors red, white, green, Jenga, Dolores, gritos, September 15 and a pigs head? You get a grand Mexico Independence Day celebration at the Home for Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico!

Yesterday we celebrated the big day with lots of games, food, music and fun. Adults and kids here at Casa Hogar made their own teams and set up booths, some for games and others for food. The food included corn on the cob, melotes, beef, chicken and pork tacos, and pastries (even a Chinese dish from a staff member who spent three years in China). There was coffee, hot chocolate, soda and champurrado to drink. There was a prize for best food and booth. Anita, my wife, and her mother worked together on the tacos and some of the muchachas and girls helped with decorating the booth and serving tacos and coffee. The pork tacos were made from a pigs head and won first place (last year Anita won second place with her grasshopper salsa, but that’s another story).

tacos dolores madre

Anita’s mom making tacos

pig head

Today a pigs head, tomorrow a taco

dolores

“Dolores” – made by muchachas

All of the staff and children at the mission were encouraged to invite friends and family, so there was a good crowd on hand enjoying the fiesta. Anita is the kitchen supervisor. She invited the people who supply our tortillas everyday and the couple who bring us fresh chicken once a week. There were people from the church gathered together as well as families who work with other ministries in the area. It was a wonderful gathering and as they say, “a good time was had by all.”

 

God loves us and wants us to be happy, and he loves it when people of faith get together to have a good time. Not only does he love it, he commands it. In the Old Testament he commanded the Jewish people from all over Israel and all over the world, to gather three times a year for worship, feasting and fiesta. There must have been hundreds of thousands of people all crammed into Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to their Loving Creator and rejoice and celebrate God’s goodness with their fellow citizens.

It’s the same in 2000 a.d. as it was in 2000 b.c. God doesn’t choose people to be “Lone Ranger” followers, but to follow him as a community of faith. He not only calls his people to come together to worship him and serve him, but also to celebrate him and enjoy him as a faith community in unity, forever.

unity

Miriam-Webster Definition of Cretan – a stupid, vulgar, or insensitive person:clod,lout

At church on Wednesday nights we have been studying Paul’s letter to Titus. Most ofcretans the letter talks about what is good. Love what is good. Teach what is good. Be an example of what is good. Be eager and ready to do what is good. Learn what is good.

At the end of chapter one, Paul writes about a group of people who are incapable of doing what is good. Those people would be the Cretans. Paul quoted a Cretan philosopher who, talking about his own people, says that Cretans always lie, are brutes and lazy gluttons.

This is somewhat unfortunate for Titus as he is on the island of Crete, ministering to said Cretans.

I have been doing some thinking about those Cretans. I have come to love the Cretans. Why? First of all, God did not take a pass on the Cretans. He didn’t say that those good for nothing Cretans are hopeless and that it’s a waste of time, effort and resources to share the Gospel with those people. No, he had Paul doing some evangelizing there. Some were converted and became followers of Jesus. When Paul had to leave the island, he put his trusted companion and son in the faith, Titus, to continue the work. Then Paul wrote him this letter instructing him what he needed to do to establish a strong church there.

The take away here is that no matter how bad the Cretans were, God loved them and wanted them to be happy by radically changing the way that they thought about right and wrong, good and bad, God and man.

The second reason I love the Cretans is that I was a Cretan, and sometimes still act like one. In fact, according to Scripture, we are all cretanish until we start walking in the Way of Christ and with Christ. Colossians 1:21 says that “once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Until our spiritual eyes are opened and we are illuminated to the Truth of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are all just a bunch of Cretans. Ephesians two says that we were all dead in our sins, until Christ Jesus made us alive. Another way to say that is that we were all Cretans. We were all liars, brutes and lazy gluttons.

We were all liars, and mainly lied to ourselves. We told ourselves that we were pretty good people and deserved to go to heaven.

We were all brutes. The dictionary says that a brute is a cruel, unpleasant or insensitive person. In one way or another we all acted cruelly in that we were insensitive to those that were different from us. To those that offended us we wished in our hearts pain and destruction on them. Sometimes we could even feel that way toward our own family members. Jesus said that as we think in our hearts, that’s the way we really are. While we may not have killed anyone, we have hated and cursed others and acted unpleasantly toward others.

We were all lazy gluttons. We were lazy in that we made no effort to know God, to serve God, to follow God. We were gluttons in the sense that we continually fed our pleasures, feasted on what we thought was good for us, with little or no concern for others. We dined without stop on the lusts of our flesh, the lusts of our eyes and the pride of life.

We were all just a bunch of Cretans, until the day that God rescued us from that slimy pit of existence, and forgave us, redeemed us and adopted us as his dearly loved children who could now live joyfully in right relationship with the Father.

Thank you God for not giving up on Cretans!

mercy

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