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Have you ever read a passage of scripture dozens of times and thought you reallyfive loaves understood it, and then upon reading it one more time, you get new revelation that you never had before?  This happened to me about a week ago.  I was reading John’s account of the multiplying the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-15).  The words of Jesus seemed to jump off the page. He asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”. The passage says Jesus was on a mountain with his disciples and Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd approaching when he asked the question.  A number of things grabbed my attention.  Jesus was having a private time with his disciples, trying to escape the crowds.  Perhaps he was teaching them about the love and power of the Father.  Now approaches the intrusive hordes.  Thousands of people are streaming toward him.  Instead of complaining about the interruption, Jesus sees opportunities.  A great object lesson for the disciples.  Also an opportunity to once again show people how God loves them and wants them to be happy.  He sees both the physical and spiritual hunger of the people.  So He asks the question, “Where shall WE buy bread…?  The passage indicates that He already knew what he was gonna do, but wanted to test the disciples.  He had no intention of Buying Bread!  But he knows what humans natural impulses are. Many times our first response to problems is to throw money at them and they will go away.  Philip thinks about the question and answers Jesus, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Money was not the answer.

I love the question, “Where are WE…?”  Jesus didn’t ask “Where are You gonna buy bread?”, but “Where are we?”  Jesus didn’t ask, “What should I  to do about this need or problem?”  Jesus says WE.  When we face incredible situations, as Christians, we can be sure that Jesus is cooperating with us to solve the problem, if we resolve to cooperate with him.  Not only with me personally, but With the Community of Faith that I am a part of.  All of the disciples were included in Jesus’ question.  Andrew piped up saying, “Here is a boy with two Small fish and five Small loaves of bread.” Andrew, like many of us focuses on the smallness of the resources at hand, the small fish and bread, rather than the Greatness of God who created the fish and the bread. Just like us today – focusing on the big problems rather than our Big God.  God wants to step into our big situations and cooperate with us in meeting felt needs and spiritual needs.

Most people have forgotten about the two big earthquakes we had here in Mexico about a month ago, but a lot of people are still suffering from them.  A week ago the Children’s Home where I cooperate with God in Oaxaca, Mexico,  sent down a few adults and some of the children with a trailer full of food and water and other material to help those whose houses had been destroyed . This week an 80 year old brother and his wife, Enrique and Elvira, who lead the prison ministry, were given a large monetary donation to help a suffering church in Chiapas, and they are there now, delivering not only the money, but spiritual direction and comfort as well.  The brother, Pedro,  who took the load down last week, noticed the people had no place and no way to shower , so he worked all week rigging up a shower system with a huge water tank.  He left early yesterday morning to deliver it along with more supplies.

Thinking about Christians responding to needs, I read in the news about different churches in Santa Rosa, California, helping out people who had lost everything due to the fires. Same with churches, Christians, Communities of Faith, helping the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.  All over the world, Disciples hear Jesus asking them, “What are WE gonna do about this situation?”  And all over the world, disciples are joining hands and hearts with their brothers and sisters and with God, to meet felt needs, and in the process, they are meeting even greater Spiritual needs.

What a story, human need, the loaves and fishes and disciples and compassion and power and God!  A never ending story, at least on this side of eternity!

loaves2

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I haven’t written for awhile because Anita, the girls and I went to the United States for a month.  We hadDSC05862 not been there for four years, so we had a great time visiting family, going to a Giants game in San Francisco, Disneyland in L.A. and camping in the Rocky Mountains.  I loved driving on pot hole free roads and using free bathrooms that had toilet paper, toilet seats, hot water and paper towels.  I encountered no crazy taxi drivers, never heard a honking horn and saw no graffiti and little litter. These are things most Americans take for granted.   In Mexico these things are the exception.

But I am glad to be back at the Mission in Oaxaca.  Why?  Because, while we don’t have the best roads, nicest bathrooms or  cleanest cities, we do have, in my humble opinion, the finest people serving at the greatest Mission in the world.  The people serving at the Home for Needy Children in Oaxaca could work almost anywhere and make more money, if money was their priority, but it’s not.  Their priority is loving God with all their being, and loving their neighbors as they love themselves.  Their priority is helping the poorest of the poor in Mexico.  Their priority is bringing help, hope and love to the downcast, oppressed, abused and mistreated children of this poor land.

Now I am back with these fine people and enjoying seeing formerly sad children smile, discouraged little girls encouraged, angry little boys at peace, hungry teens well fed and losers at life’s sometimes vicious game, given another chance at happiness and contentment.

Of course, all of this is made possible by the grace of God, the prayers of the saints and the contributions of people who care.  Thank you God for people who care!

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

poor one

pain – death – war

Last time I wrote that we were created to enjoy God.  I wrote that God loves us and wants us to  be happy.  Writing that, I could hear in my mind, voices of readers making objections.  People naturally asking, “If God loves us and wants us to be happy, then WHY?  Why is there suffering and pain in the world?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why were more Christians tortured and killed last century, than all the other centuries put together?  Why are babies born with defects?  Why does God allow children to be abused?  Why is there war?”  The “Why’s” are many.

These questions lead to others.  Is God good and loving, yet weak or powerless to prevent pain and suffering?  Or, is God the almighty creator of the universe who made us and then takes an apathetic step back to see how it will all play out?  Questions like these are asked everyday in a hundred different ways, and it seems that no one has the answers.

Well, never fear, friendly reader.  Michael James Santiago Schwab is here.  I have all the answers.   In my dreams!  To tell the truth, my own voice was making the same objections when I wrote about God’s love, enjoying God, and being happy.  I was asking WHY?  I wish I had all the answers, but of course I don’t.  I live in the same world as you – a world filled with  the tensions of good and evil; wholeness and brokenness;  happiness and sadness; peace and conflict; joy and disappointment; success and frustration.  These types of tensions confront most of us on a daily basis.

Another question.  What do we do with all these tensions?  Try to ignore them?  Bury our heads in the sand?  Put on rose colored glasses?  Pray for the best, but expect the worst?  Let go and let God?

Again, I don’t have the answers.  All I can do is share some ideas about how I have learned to cope with these issues as they have sprung up on my spiritual  journey.  I hope what I have to say will encourage everyone, but undoubtedly my words will be a disappointment for some and ring hollow to others.

For me, finding the  right perspective on these issues of good and evil, suffering and pain, begins with reading the Bible.  I believe the Bible is God’s Word that He gives us to help us think His  thoughts after Him.  To open the eyes of our heart, our spiritual eyes.  I think of the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, as a User’s Manual, that God has graciously given us to.  He made us.  He knows how we function.  He explains what we need to know in the Manual.  In reading, studying and meditating on the Bible, God helps me  understand, a little bit more everyday, what’s going on.  I get more of His perspective.  Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I can see things more clearly.

One of the first things that I learn from Scripture is that having all the answers in life isn’t all that important.  In fact, having all the  answers is impossible.  What is important in life is to trust that God loves us and  wants us to be happy.  That’s what the Bible says.  One example- I just scanned the book of Psalms, all 150 chapters.  I  have read it many times, and underlined things that were important to me.  Scanning all those pages and reading things I had underlined, certain words and phrases jumped out at me.  Rejoice, gladness, joy, delight, steadfast love, love endures forever, rescue, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, goodness.  These are the words that the writers of the Psalms use to describe God, His gifts, and their reaction to those gifts.  Throughout the Bible, from the Garden of  Eden in Genesis, to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, I read about a Good God who loves His people and wants them to be happy.

Job

Job and his “friends”

This is not to say that  God’s people never suffer.  All we have to do is to read the book of Job to see that.  This book gives the account of a “blameless, upright man who feared God and shunned evil”.  He was very wealthy.  He was a devoted father.  A picture of health.  We all know the story.  He lost everything in a short time.  His wealth was stolen.  His children died in a tragic accident.  He began suffering from a horrible, painful skin disease.  How did Job react?  The first two chapters tell us that “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” and “Job did not sin in what he said.”  Job 13:15 records Job as saying, “Even if God kills me, still I will trust Him.”

Naturally Job wanted to know WHY?!  Why God?  Why?

Towards the end of the book of Job, Job receives an audience with God.  Surely he must have thought, Now God will answer my question – WHY?  Guess what?  God did not answer the Why Question.  God proclaimed  His might and power to Job.  God told Job to consider the universe that He had created.  God directed Job’s attention to nature, and God asked a few questions of His own.  Forty-seven questions to be exact.  A few examples of the questions that God asked Job –

Where were you when I laid the earths foundations?

Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?

Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

Can you bring forth the constellations?

Do you send the lighting bolts on their way?

Will the one who contends the Almighty correct him?

To all these questions, Job had to answer “No”, while God says, “I was there, I have done it and will continue to do it.”  What God is saying to Job, and to us, is that He is all powerful.  He is sovereign.  He has given us a beautiful creation, and He can be trusted to do the right thing, even if we can’t see it or don’t understand it.  Job never did understand, this  side of eternity, why he had to suffer the way he did, but he did understand that he had to to trust in God, that  He is  good and that His love endures forever.

I love Psalm 103.  God is pictured as a loving, compassionate father.  He understands what we are going through.  Why we suffer.  Verse 14 says, ‘he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”    Our attitudes are dust.  Our actions are dust.  Our strength is dust.  Our motivations are dust.  As a result of all that “dust”  we suffer sometimes because of our sin.  We cause other people to suffer because of our sin.  We suffer because of other peoples sin.  Sin is the main cause of suffering, although certainly not the only cause.  Despite our sin, as Psalm 103 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”  When we recognize our sin, and ask God to forgive us and restore us to a right relationship with Him, then we can be assured, as verse 12 states, “as far as the east is  from the  west, so  far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

In our times of trials, turmoil and terrible pain, we can be sure that God, our compassionate Father, is  there beside us, walking with us, and at times carrying us.  Ultimately we can rest assured that we will  be delivered from all  sorrow  and suffering.  Why?  Because God loves us and wants  us to be happy.

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“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home”     Amazing Grace

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Next blog – Three Happy People