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When I was a child I went to church because my parents took me there.

When I was a teenager I went to church because I experienced the love of God and wanted to learn more about Him and His great love.

When I was in Bible College I went to church because it was required by the Bible College and I enjoyed the preaching.

After I graduated from Bible College I went to church because I worked with the youth group and I was married and had two daughters.

After I divorced I went to church because I needed the fellowship and support of the Body of Christ, and I was committed to contributing to the life of the church in various ways.

I have gone to church my whole life, and for the most part it has been a positive experience. I have enjoyed the music, both the richness of the old hymns and also the lively contemporary tunes. Most churches that I went to had talented musicians who made that aspect of the service something special.

The sermons were usually my favorite part. Most of the ministers were highly educated, gifted speakers who made the Bible come alive. Preachers who explained biblical passages in their cultural and literary settings, and then offered practical applications for present day followers of Jesus.

I came to Mexico to help needy children thirteen years ago. These years have probably been the happiest years of my life. Living my life helping the fatherless and the incarcerated. Making a difference in the lives of poor children who have been abused and neglected by those who should have cared for them. Seeing smiling, happy faces everyday of young ones who would otherwise be living miserable lives, is an exceedingly rewarding experience for me.  Laughing with inmates and bringing a message of encouragement to them; many who were falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, is a great blessing for me.

Going to church in Mexico, on the other hand, is not such a great experience for me. The music is almost always too loud and hurts my ears. The lyrics are generally shallow and the theology of the songs suspect. The same can often be said for the preaching. I miss the music and sermons from the U.S.A.

So why do I still go to church? Because that is where I encounter the Body of Christ, the Community of Faith, gathered together to acknowledge the goodness of the God who has called us, redeemed us, justified us, rescued us, saved us and is sanctifying us everyday. I go to church primarily to look around and be reminded that God loves US and wants US to be happy. I go to church and see the Family of God, adopted sons and daughters of the Most High, brothers and sisters of the Faith.

In reality, every time I walk out my front door here at the mission, I go to church.  The church is the people who I work with everyday, my fellow Christians.  In one sense, I don’t go to church – I live in the church.  I live and work with people who are dedicated to making beauty, doing good and sharing the truth in the name of Jesus.  People who strive everyday to love God and love humanity.  People trying to bring peace, joy and light into dark and unhappy lives.  We do it all depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the strength of the Lord and the nurturing of our loving heavenly Father.  That is the true church.

But when we all gather together, now that is something special.  The presence of God is manifest in our lives in a unique way.  I look around the auditorium and I see house parents who give their time and love to children desperate for love. I see cooks who make delicious, wholesome meals for children who previously lacked a proper diet and nutrition. I notice men who do maintenance; who keep the vehicles in working condition so the kids can go to school safely and the cooks can go and buy food and the teachers can go and buy supplies. I take in the school teachers who are so dedicated and give so much of themselves so that their students have a good education and can make something of themselves in this country where it can be so difficult to get ahead.  God’s presence is with us all as we go about our individual chores and fulfill our responsibilities.  But when we all gather together to worship God and look into each others eyes and pray for one another, that gives God an opportunity to do a work in our hearts and lives that would not otherwise be accomplished.

So I go to church and worship God with music that is too loud and where the preaching is less than stimulating, because I am part of a team that God has called. He has not just called us individually to salvation, but He has called each of us to come to Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico, to work together and grow together and make a difference together. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I go to church to celebrate US. US who are God’s handiwork. US who are created in Christ Jesus. US who are doing good works that God has prepared for US to do.

I go to church to celebrate God with my brothers and sisters in the Faith. The God who has opened our eyes to the truth. The God who gives us a common vision of how we can participate in the Kingdom of God in the Tlacolula valley of southern Mexico. To celebrate the faithful God who gives us “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

That is why I still go to church.

Don’t

live in the world

and go to church.

Live

in the

church

and go into the world!!!

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FOCUS ON GOD

It seems to me that because God loves us and wants us to be happy, that when we go to church we should focus on Him. We should thank Him, glorify Him, and honor Him.  Our attention should be on God.  But if you think about the words in most of the songs we sing, the attention and focus is mainly on us.  Particularly me, myself and I.  “Here I am to worship”.  “I surrender all.”  “Above all, He thought of me.”  When I go to church, I don’t want to think about me.  I want to think first of all about God and His mercy, grace, love, power, kindness, compassion, gentleness and presence.  Secondly, I want to focus on the community of faith around me, the called out ones.  God brings us together as the family of God, and its proper for us as a community to worship and adore Him with songs and words that reflect our togetherness; words like “us” and “we” and “our”, rather than “me”, “myself” and “I”.

ONE DAY LESS
It seems to me that everyday we should thank God for one day LESS.  A lot of Christians thank God everyday for one day more.  One day more to enjoy God.  One day more of life.  One day more to live for God.   While that is all good, I think it’s better to think about the best – and the best thing that will happen to us is that one day we will see God face to face.  We will be in His immediate presence, engulfed in His love, free from this world and its sin and pain and  suffering.  Each day we live is one day less until we are with God.  Paul says in Philippians one, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain….I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”  In the second chapter of Peter’s second letter, he describes the awful wicked world that we live in.  In the following chapter, Peter writes, “You  ought to live holy and godly lives as you LOOK FORWARD to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise, we are LOOKING FORWARD to a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells.”  Sounds like Peter and Paul were thanking God for one day LESS.

IT’S IN OUR HANDS

It seems to me that everyday we should thank God for putting the day in OUR hands.  I hear a lot of Christians telling God that they are going to put the day in His hands.  I don’t quite understand that because everything is in God’s hands, including the days.  As far as I can see, the real miracle, the real special thing, is that God puts the day in OUR hands, and gives us the freedom to use it as we see fit.  We can use it for good or bad; for blessing or cursing; for making the world a better place or worse place; to bring beauty and productivity into the  kingdom, or ugliness and destruction.  God has put the day into OUR hands, and it seems to me we should thank God for that and seek His guidance for the best way to use the day to glorify and honor Him.

LIVE IN THE CHURCH

It seems to me that Christians should not live in the world and go to church, but that we should live in the Church and go into the world.  God calls us into a community of faith, into the Body of Christ.  We best flesh out our “personal relationship” with God, within the framework of fellowship within the Church.  God doesn’t want no “Lone Ranger” Christians who don’t participate in a Christian Community.  “Lone Ranger” Christians who want to live in the world and occasionally go to church.  No, God calls us to follow Him as a body, as a group of disciples whom He sends out into the world to be salt and light; to be healers and helpers; to be pro-claimers of the Good News that God is inviting people into the Kingdom of God.

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In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else has been directed.  Thus each is equally at the center and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the  great things by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love.  Blessed be He!       C.S. Lewis in Perelandra

Recently I was thumbing through the Evangelical Theological Dictionary of Theology, and there it was! somewhere between Hallelujah and Homologoumena, I encountered  Happiness.  I was pleasantly surprised that a theology book considered happiness a worthy topic.  It not only explored the concept of happiness, but included a “to-do” list.  Things people need to do to be happy.  I have taken that list, modified it somewhat, and added a few things of my own, to come up with a Top Ten list of things  people need to do to be happy.

1.  Develop a close relationship with God.jesus

John 15:9  “Stay in my love.”  John 15:10  “If you obey my teachings you will live in my love.  John 15:11  “I have told you these things so My joy may be in you and your joy may be full.”  John 15:15  “I no longer call you servants.  Instead, I  have called you friends, for everything I learned from my Father I have told you.”  New Life Study Testament

The most important thing to do to enjoy God and be happy is to have  a deep, trusting, and loving relationship with God.

2.  Have a strong moral base.

Mark 12:28-34  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is closely related to number one.  One way we love God with  all our being is  to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  Loving doesn’t necessarily mean “liking”.  Having a strong moral  base essentially means that we do to others as we would like  them to do to us.  We don’t have to like other people in order to treat them right.  Jesus uses the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate this point (Luke 10:25-37).

3.  Show mercy and compassion to the poor.

Proverbs 14:21 “He who  despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is  kind to the needy.”                                                       Matthew 25:37-40  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when  did  we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give  you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you  in, or  needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick  or in prison  and  go to  visit you?’                                                                                                                          “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”    New International Version

When we reach out and help the poor, less fortunate, the “least of  these”, God fills us with joy, because these are the kinds of works we were created to do to be happy people  (Ephesians 2:10).

4.  See your work as a gift from God.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13  “I know  that there  is nothing better for men than to be happy and do  good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.” (also Eccl. 2:24,25; 3:22; 8:15)

The author of Ecclesiastes mentions often that enjoying and taking pleasure in  your job is one of the most important things we can do to be happy.  God gives all of us special gifts, talents, and abilities, that, when put to work, brings us joy. I  believe God has given me the  ability to garden and to teach.  I have been doing these two  things for over thirty years.  While I  never made a lot of money doing these things, they have brought a richness of joy into my life.

5.  Think of others as better than yourself.

{love and happiness}

{love and happiness} (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philippians 2:3  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in  humility consider others  better than yourselves.”   1 Timothy 1:15  “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”  NIV

Perhaps nothing can  take away my happiness quicker than when  I begin to think that I am better than  someone else.  That can be quite a temptation, especially when one lives  in a Christian community in a foreign county as I do.  Here at the home for  needy children in Mexico, there are staff members and volunteers from different countries, cultures, backgrounds, environments, and spiritual walks.  The Devil wants to bring divisiveness rather than unity, and he loves it when he can get us to think of ourselves better than those we are around everyday.  When we feel superior to  others, complain about others or look down on others, then the Devil has gained a foothold and we lose a precious bit of divine joy that  God has for us.  The great apostle Paul, writing to Timothy towards the end  of his life, comparing himself to others, states that he is  the worst of sinners.  If we can identify with Paul, then we can experience God’s love and enjoy Him in a unique way.

6.  Say “Thank you”.thank you

Colossians 3:15  “Let the peace of Christ have power over your hearts.  You were chosen as part of his body.  Always be thankful.”    1 Thessalonians 5:16  “In everything give thanks.  This is  what God wants you to do because of Jesus Christ.”     NLST

Say “Thank you” at least 50 times a day.  Say it to God, to friends and family, to co-workers and to complete strangers.  I f you have a thankful heart, you will have a happy heart.  Just ask Madame Blueberry from VeggieTales, she’ll tell you.

7.  Embrace silence and solitude.

“Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”  “Solitude … is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.”  Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, pg.s 16,22

“The day needs definite times of silence, silence under the Word and silence that comes out of the Word.”  “Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s word with a blessing.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pg. 79

Two  writers that I have a lot of respect for when it comes to enjoying God, are Henri Nouwen and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  They both write about the importance of silence and solitude in the life of a happy, fulfilled Christian.  They both suggest that daily times of  silence and solitude, as well as extended get-a-ways where you can enjoy longer times of intimate silence and solitude with  God and His Word are extremely important.  It is especially in times of silence and solitude that we experience God, His  love and joy.

8.  Don’t talk so much.dont talk

James 3:6  “The tongue is a fire. a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is  itself set on fire by hell.”    James 3:8  “No man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Hmm. Our tongues – fire, world of evil, corrupting, restless evil, full of deadly poison.  Not happy things!  Haven’t we all been burned and been poisoned by other  peoples words?  More tragically, we have burned and poisoned others with our careless words, gossiping, backbiting, sarcastic and venomous words.  James says in the beginning of chapter three that if you control your tongue you will be perfect – perfectly happy?  I think so.  Fewer words, more happiness.

9.  Delight in God’s Word.bible pic

Psalm 119:16  “I delight in your decrees;  I will not neglect your word.”  vs. 24  “Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”   vs.35  “Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.”   vs. 47  “I delight in your commands because I love them.”   vs. 77  “Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.”  vs. 92  “If your law had not been my delight, I  would have perished in my affliction.”  vs. 111  “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.”  vs. 143  “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight.”  vs.174  “I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.”    NIV

Start your day by reading God’s Word, studying and meditating on the scriptures, praying through some verses, memorizing others, and you will have a delightfully happy day.

10.  Don’t live in the world and go to church, but live in the church and go into the  world.

I don’t know who  originally said that, but I love it.  God not only saved us to have a personal relationship with Him, but, more importantly, saved us to be a vital part of His  body, His kingdom, the community of faith, the Church.  The Church is  not a building that we go into once or twice a week to “worship God”.  The Church is the body of Christ, a spiritual building that God has chosen as a growth instrument to help His followers grow  in  the fruit of the Spirit, of which  one important fruit is joy.  As a community, a fruit basket, we go into  a hurting world and bring to it love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and goodness.  Hence, we “live in the Church”, and go into the world.

Romans 12:4,5 ,6  “Just as ach  of us has one body with many members, and these members do  not  all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form  one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

So there it is, my top ten list of things to do  to  be happy.  When these things are prominent in my life, I discover I am happier, experience more joy and enjoy  God  more.  Most of these things don’t just happen overnight.  It has taken me almost 50 years to cultivate them to the  point that they are more or less natural to my life and faith walk, but I still  have a ways to go.

I have about ten different types of fruit trees that I  planted and care for here at the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  I imagine these ten things “to do” to be happy, as fruit trees in our lives.  When they are young they bear no  fruit, or immature fruit that is very small or not very edible, but they have the potential of producing much fruit.  In order to finally bear good fruit they constantly need looking after.  They need water, sun, good soil, fertilizer, insecticide, and pruning.  After four or five years they almost all bear fruit, some more than others.  One has died and a couple others are struggling mightily.

So it is in our “spiritual orchard”.  Some of the things on our “to do” list come naturally, are comfortable for us to practice and live.  Others we struggle with, and some we just feel like giving up on.  With patience, diligence, and the goal of Happiness in view, we can have a beautiful and abundant orchard that yields a life of happiness and enable us to enjoy God forever.

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”    Jim Valvano, College Basketball Coach who died of cancer eight weeks after saying this in  a speech.

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Next post – The Lord’s Prayer, A  Happy Prayer