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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

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white house on green grass and green mountain

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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!!!

My wife Anita, our two daughters and myself were in Mitla, Oaxaca, Mexico a couple weeks ago, helping with the

Anita serving up atole

Anita serving up atole

preparation and joining in the celebration of Radio Zapoteca’s second anniversary.  Wood fires were burning in cinderblock rings.  Smoke  filled the cooking area and escaped through slits in the rusted tin walls.    Milk, ground up oats and sugar were mixed together in a big pot  over one fire to make a traditional Oaxacan drink called atole.  Chickens, throats freshly cut, were briefly plunged into boiling water of another pot and then plucked naked.  Nine butchered chickens contributed to some delicious chicken soup and tasty tamales.

Women from a half dozen local church congregation gathered in Anita’s parent’s yard to help.  Some churches donated food, others tables and chairs.  The Home for Needy Children, where Anita and I are staff members, donated cases of milk.  I wrote in an earlier blog that the social service arm of of the government had given the ministry a bunch of milk.  Out of our abundant supply we were able to share.  Blessed to be a blessing, as the saying goes.

Anita’s older brother, Arturo, started Radio Zapoteca two years ago, because of his vision of proclaiming  the Good News that God loves us and wants us to be happy, to the entire Mitla valley.  This wonderful DSC00310Christian radio station plays inspiring Christian music, and proclaims the messaged of God’s love in Spanish and the local Zapoteco dialect.  This station also broadcasts via the  internet at RadioZapoteca.com if you want to give it a listen.

Arturo is an inspiration himself.  Fifteen years ago, Arturo was living for himself.  He graduated from the local university with an accounting degree and immediately got a good job making good money.  God spoke into his life through local missionaries, who convinced him, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that there was more to life than money and mezcal.  He turned his life over to the Good Shepherd and Savior of his soul.  He was filled with a joy that he had never experienced

Cooking tubs of tamales

Cooking tubs of tamales

before.  He gave up his job and went to work for the missionaries, helping them make recordings of the Bible in the dialects of illiterate village people living in isolated areas of Oaxaca (RadioZapoteca.com includes Bible recordings of over 400 dialects).

He worked faithfully in that ministry for a few years, while being heavily involved in a local church.  The little church, Dios Es Amor (God is Love), was the result of a church planting of a larger church in Oaxaca city.  The idea was that after a few years, it would become self sufficient with its own pastor.  Arturo had been in charge of the youth group and would preach occasionally.  The pastor of the parent church in Oaxaca city saw the hand of God on Arturo’s life and Arturo felt the call of God to pastor the little flock.  After receiving pastoral training, and much prayer, Arturo was ordained as pastor of  Dios Es Amor.

Over two years ago, Arturo began dreaming of a way to communicate Christ, not just to his small band of brothers and

Sisters in Christ helping to prepare a feast for the fiesta

Sisters in Christ helping to prepare a feast for the fiesta

sisters in the Lord; not just to his neighbors and those he would casually meet, but to all of the Mitla region.  He envisioned a Christian radio station that would proudly proclaim the gracious goodness of a living Redeemer, not just to the Spanish speakers, but to those indigenous people in the area called Zapotecos and spoke that dialect.  Arturo could reach out to them in their “heart” language, since he was half Zapoteco and  could speak the language.

He  shared his vision with other Christians and they began to dream the same dream, and supported Arturo with

prayers, funds, time and talents.  Two weeks ago, these Christians, along with  hundreds of others who regularly tune in to Radio Zapoteca, came  together in the town square to celebrate the radio station’s second year of existence. Pastors of different denominations spoke about the importance and blessing that Radio Zapoteca was for them personally and for their congregations.  People spoke about how much more they enjoyed God when they could turn on the radio and listen to inspiring Christian music, teaching and preaching.  Bands came from all around to play their different styles of music, glorifying the King  of kings and Lord of lords.

Standing in the smokey, makeshift kitchen of my in-laws, surrounded by sisters in Christ cooking chickens and making

Arturo broadcasting the Good News on Radio Zapoteca

Arturo broadcasting the Good News on Radio Zapoteca

tamales, I rejoiced in God’s work and goodness.  I thought of all the Christians in the community that were encouraged daily by Arturo and Radio Zapoteca.  There were so many who had come to know our Great, Good God, and were themselves helping to grow the Kingdom of God in their own special ways.  And on that Saturday in February, we were all together, pitching in, to make the  second anniversary fiesta such a success – glorifying God and enjoying Him and His presence among us.

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Guiraa redee badeedni te guluiireni rexpejn Jesucrist, te gunreni dzuun te gustajlreni rebejn ni gac xquidoo Jesucrist.   Zapoteco de Mitla translation of Ephesians 4:12 –               to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

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Next blog – Beauty, Truth and Goodness

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