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Or, Be Happy and Flourish!

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The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon;

planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

Psalm 92:12

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May the LORD cause you to flourish, both you and your children. 

May you be blessed by the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 115: 14,15

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I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God;

I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

Psalm 52:8

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O LORD God, Who lives in eternity,

The heavens declare thy glory,

The earth thy riches,

The universe is thy temple:

Thy presence fills immensity,

Yet thou hast of thy pleasure created life,

and communicated happiness:

Thou hast made me what I am,

and given me what I have:

In thee I live and move and have my being.

(A Puritan’s prayer from the book The Valley of Vision)

Sometimes people have trouble believing that God loves them and wants them to be happy.  Some people have never believed it and others used to believe it.  I was reading Luke 5 the other day and encountered four men with these same struggles.

The first was Peter.  He was having a bad day because he had had a bad night.  Out all night on his boatbad day fishing, trying to make a living, provide for his family, and didn’t catch a single fish.  Not even a minnow.  He was cleaning his nets when along came Jesus.  Peter had heard of this Jesus guy.  Supposed to be some new phenom rabbi who went around preaching, teaching and supposedly healing people.  Large crowds followed him wherever he went, and this day was no exception.  They were jostling him, pushing babies at him to bless, and begging to be healed.  Jesus needed some space.  He saw Peter’s boat on the shore, and asked Peter if he would row him out away from shore.  Peter sighed heavily, looked at his nets, and then at Jesus.  He stood up, walked towards his boat, helped Jesus in, then got in himself and rowed out always.  “At least I get a front row seat to the Jesus show” he thought to himself.

Peter was strangely moved by this itinerant preacher.  He could see why people were taken with him.  He had an engaging smile, told interesting stories, spoke with authority that Peter had never heard before.  He was actually a bit disappointed when the good teacher was through.  But then discovered that although Jesus was finished preaching, he wasn’t finished with Peter.

2.  The second man Jesus encountered knew he was a sinner.  His body was full of leprosy, a judgement from God for his sins, at least that’s what everyone had told him, although he had trouble thinking what sins he had committed that merited such punishment from God.  He was upset at God and couldn’t believe that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  There was a time in his life when he thought That was true.  When he was caressing his beautiful wife and playing with his children.  Now that had all changed.  He wasn’t even allowed to be close to his family since the leprosy invaded his body.  Now he was an outcast, societies reject, who had to live alone, or with a few other lepers.  Anytime he went near another person, or someone approached him, he had to warn them with cries of “Unclean.  Unclean.”  He couldn’t remember the last time he had touched someone, or that someone had touched him.  Happiness was now a foreign idea to him.  A loving God was none existent.

3.  The paralyzed man could identity.  He wondered how a loving God could see him in his condition and not do anything to help him.  He too, thought about sin, and wondered if he had done something so bad that he had to endure punishment from a wrathful God.  That was the majority opinion at the time, and while a few kind people would occasionally help him out with a shekel or two, he figured they were thinking that he brought this malady on himself one way or another.  “At least I have my friends” he thought.

4.  Levi didn’t know and didn’t much care if God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  He believed that you have to make your own happiness, and for him, making happiness meant making money, and lots of it, even if it meant taking it out of your brothers pocket and putting it in your own.  Levi was a hated tax collector, working in collusion with the Roman government who ruled Israel.  With these two strikes against him, he was despised and rejected by his fellow citizens.  Never invited to his neighbors parties or celebrations.  Banned from the synagogue.  “Who needs them?”  He often exclaimed.  “I have the nicest house in town, eat the finest foods and drink the best wine!”  This was his outward persona, but inside he felt something was missing.  He was restless, always looking for the latest, greatest pleasure that would finally drown the gnawing feeling of discontent that he struggled with continuously.

I think that if we put ourselves in these guys sandals, we might also have trouble believing that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Christians all over the world, everyday, struggle with pain, rejection, financial difficulties and disappointment with God.  By seeing how Jesus stepped into the lives and situations of the four men from Luke 5, we can get a glimpse of how he might make a difference in our lives and situations.

With Peter, after his teaching the crowd, Jesus told Peter to go into the deep water, let down his nets, and see what would happen.  I’m sure Peter was skeptical.  Jesus was a good teacher and healer, but what did he know about fishing?  It turns out, plenty.  Peter’s net was bursting with fish.  His heart was bursting with shame.  He realized that more than a man was in his boat, and Peter recognized his sinfulness and unworthiness to have Jesus in the same boat with him.  Peter asked Jesus to leave because he felt so unworthy.  The compassion of Jesus flowed into Peter when Jesus, told him, “Follow me, and you will become a fisher of men.”  A bad day for Peter turned into one of the best days of his life.  That’s what happens when we let Jesus into our boat.

The leper had heard about Jesus the healer, and hoped it was true.  But even if it was true, would he have anything to do with a filthy, sinful, leper.  He wanted to find out.  As Jesus passed by the leper fell with his face to the ground before Jesus and begged him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Unbelievably, Jesus reached out his hand and actually touched the leper, something prohibited by Jewish law, but something greater than the law was present.  The compassion of Jesus – and the leper was healed.  He knew indeed, that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

The paralyzed man wanted to experience the healing touch of Jesus.  His friends took him to the  house where Jesus was teaching and healing people.  They couldn’t get the guy and his mat into the house because of a huge crowd of people trying to get at Jesus.  One of the friends had an idea.  They went to the roof, took off a few roof tiles, and the next thing you know, the man was being lowered down before Jesus very eyes.  Surely the paralyzed man was excited, expecting Jesus to heal his crippled legs, and oh the joy that would fill his soul.

Jesus looked at the paralytic, called him “Friend”, and then said in a loud voice for all to hear, especially the Pharisees, “Your sins are forgiven.”  I imagine the man on the mat was somewhat confused.  He had come to be healed, and now Jesus is forgiving his sins.  What is that all about?  The paralyzed man’s greatest problem was not with his legs, but with his heart. His heart was crippled by sin and resulted in guilt, inner turmoil, and separation from living in right relationship with God. First things first.  Jesus dealt with the heart situation first, and in the process let the large crown in on a little secret, that he was not just a man, but that he was also a compassionate God who heals hearts as well as bodies.  After forgiving his sins, he heals his legs and the guy walks out, carrying his mat, rejoicing in the new found knowledge that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

Finally, Jesus makes a difference in the life of Levi the tax collector.  Jesus went up to Levi, greedily collecting the peoples money, and spoke to him.  “Follow me.”  Something incredible happened to Levi.  Again, it was a heart thing.  A heart change.  Open heart surgery or a heart implant, where the Holy Spirit opened the spiritual eyes of Levi, softened his heart, and made him realize that there was more to life than money and materialism.  Luke 5:28 tells us that Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus.  Now Levi’s life had real meaning, a true purpose and he was filled with great joy.  God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

God comes to people lives in many different ways and usually at the most unexpected times.  Sometimes it happens when we seek him, other times when his presence is the last thing we are looking for.  But he always shows up to let us know that he loves us and wants us to be happy!

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compassion

March first was my ten year anniversary of being at the Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico.   Looking back on those ten years I think about Beauty, Goodness and Truth.  I have been rereading a Christian philosophy book about Beauty, Goodness and Truth, with regards to the writings of C.S. Lewis.  Beauty, Goodness and Truth are three important characteristics that describe God and his work with humanity.  We are created in God’s image, thus three important aspects of of humans, especially Christian humans should be Beauty, Goodness and Truth.beauty, truth, goodness

In God we see he created beauty in the six days of creation.  Not only was it beautiful, but God pronounced it good.  We also see the goodness of God in the way he provides for our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.  As Pastor Aaron is fond of saying, “God is good all the time” and “All the time God is good.”  When it comes to truth, well, God is truth, and all truth is God’s truth.  Jesus said, “I am the truth.”

As Christians we strive to be like our maker (who after creating man and woman proclaimed this special act of creation as Very Good).  Everyday, followers of Christ should desire to make beauty, or make the world and the kingdom of God, more beautiful.  A true disciple should also do good and acquire and disseminate truth.  As I look back on my ten years in Mexico I ask myself if I have done these three things.

God loves us and wants us to be happy.  He has created us to be most happy when we do these three things.  I have been extremely happy these past ten years cooperating with God in making beauty, doing good and acquiring and disseminating truth.  I am most happy when I am making gardens, following in the footsteps of God who made the first garden.  Genesis tells us the first garden was first of all beautiful, and then good for producing fruit.  I try to make gardens that are also beautiful and good for producing peace and happiness, as well as good food.  I appreciate it when visitors to the Oaxaca mission tell how beautiful and peaceful it is.  My primary hope is that the gardens bring a sense of peace and joy to the hurting children that we care for.  We have one troubled boy who, despite his inner struggles and conflicts, consistently tells me, when I am putting in a new garden, that it is beautiful.  Thank you Danny.

All the staff members at the mission do good things and practice kindness everyday.  We take kids to school and pick them up.  We do dishes and sweep and mop floors.  We go to Oaxaca city after our “workday” is done on Tuesday evenings and spend a few more hours at the fruit and vegetable market asking vendors for donations of produce, arrive back late and unload the pickup.  Usually some kids from the mission go along and help.  It all makes for a long day, but I think that as we finally climb into bed, we give thanks to God that he has allowed us to participate with him in the kingdom work of helping “the least of these”.  For members of the Family of God, doing good is is important, especially considering Jesus words in Matthew chapter 25 – when you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, take in strangers, help the sick and visit those in prison, we do it as though it were for Jesus.  “When you did it to these my brothers, you have done it for me.”  These ten years in Mexico I have done a few good things, by the grace of God who has allowed me to partner with brothers and sisters who share a faith to “love one another as I have loved you”.

One of my favorite things to do throughout my life has been to acquire and disseminate truth.  I have always loved to read and learn and to share with others what I have learned.  At the Home for Needy Children there is a primary school which offers the students a variety of electives.  I have been privileged to share truth with the children on gardening, baseball and currently basketball.

There is a prison across the street and for over five years I have walked across the highway to that prison and have taught an English class to groups of women, men, and inmates in the psyche ward. Disseminating truth not only about nouns, verbs and vowels, but also about God’s love, compassion and mercy.  Psalms says that God gives us the desires of our heart.  God gave me the desire to learn and teach, to acquire and disseminate truth, and I am blessed that I have been able to do that in a variety of ways at the Mission in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Speaking of Beauty, Goodness and Truth that I have experienced during my time in Mexico, I am most grateful for my beautiful wife Anita, and two wonderful daughters, Sally and Kelly, that God has given me during my time here.  They are so good and bring much happiness to my life. Surely God is good all the time.

I also thank God for the chance to get to know Charla Pereau , the founder of Foundation for His Ministry which operates the Home for Needy Children here in Oaxaca.  She is the epitome of making beauty, doing good and sharing truth.  Thousands of the “least of these” in Mexico enjoy happier lives because of her life.  I am one of those.

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How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good He has given me?  I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD.   Psalm 116:12,13

 

There are three things that will never die: truth, goodness and beauty.  These are the three things we all need, and need absolutely, and know we need, and know we need absolutely.  Our minds want not only some truth and some falsehood, but all truth, without limit.  Our wills want not only some good and some evil, but all good, without limit.  Our desires, imaginations, feeling or hearts want not just some beauty and some ugliness, but all beauty, without limit.  These three things are three attributes of God, and therefore of all of God’s creation:  three transcendental or absolutely universal properties of all reality.   C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty  by David J. Baggett

 

A few days ago in our morning devotions at the home for needy children where my wife and I serve, a lady named Mireya talked about the recent death of her mother.  Her mother had been battling diabetes for many years.  Not a pleasant struggle to have to endure.  And then, to make matters worse, she was involved in a terrible auto accident that broke bones, inflicted bruises; internal and external, and left her in a coma for some days.  She finally came out of the coma, which was a great relief for her family, but never really recovered, and ended up dying a couple weeks ago.car crash

Mireya talked of her mother’s walk with God and the tremendous impact her faith had on her family, friends, and even the hospital staff who cried at her passing.

At about the same time of Mireya’s mother’s accident, another tragic auto collision occurred.  This time to a lady named Leticia who had faithfully served at the mission in previous years with her husband Edgar.  She was hit by a big truck driven by a drunk man.  In the car with her were her two daughters, son, and sister in law.  They all suffered a variety of bone fractures, contusions and bruises.  The worst off was the sister in law who had both of her legs broken.

My wife, Anita, and I, went to visit Leticia recently, and she recounted for us the injuries and physical pain they all went through.  Almost as bad as the physical pain, was, and is, is the psychological ordeal they are going through.  The drunk man who crashed into Leticia was questioned by police and released.  The police never filed a report and there is no evidence that they were ever on the scene.  Leticia’s son took a picture of the drunk man and his license plate, which allowed them to find out where he lived.  Evidently this man is a man of some means, as it seems he paid the police off and has hired a number of lawyers to defend him in case any one tries to make him pay.  Edgar went to find the man in order to talk to him about the situation.  He was no where to be found, and so Edgar talked to a few neighbors, telling them what happened and why he wanted to speak with the guy.  He gave them his cell phone number.  That evening he received a call from a relative of the drunk driver who cursed Edgar out.

What is the import of these two stories?  I always say that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  These are not very happy stories.  The members of these families are strong, faithful Christians involved in ministry.  It would be natural to ask God the question “Why”?  In fact, Mireya confessed to asking that question.  God answered her question.  It’s not important to know what the answer was.  It is important to know that our God who loves us and wants us to happy, always answers that question.  Sometimes he gives the answer in a still small voice that brings us great satisfaction.  Sometimes he answers that question through circumstances that follow, or with wise council from trusted friends or family members.  Sometimes he answers with the response that Jesus gave John the Baptist or to Peter, which was, “What I do now you cannot understand, but in time you will.”

The New Testament writers James and Peter wrote about going through times of suffering, and both of them said that we should rejoice and be filled with joy because God uses the hard times of pain and confusion to bring about spiritual growth and greater intimacy with the Father.

 Consider it  pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  James 1:2,3

           For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.   1Peter1:6,7

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk wrote about difficult times ahead for the chosen people of God.  Times of distress and want; hunger and pain. This prophet also declared “though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakuk 3:17,18).”

So whether we suffer a car crash, emotional or physical crash, financial or familial crash, we can be sure that while we go through the pain, God is with us to strengthen us and encourage us, and when we come out the other end, we can rejoice and consider it pure joy that our faith is real and God is glorified.

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suffering

I have a tale to tell.  It’s sad but true.  It’s about a boy I’ll call “Run Away Lou”.  Not his real name, I need to tell you. His namehappy new year has been changed to protect the guilty, which Lou definitely is, although he is is not the only culpable figure in this story of woe.

It should be a happy story, full of joy and fun.  Good times and laughter.  Lots of sun, sand and surf.  That’s the way it all began.  During Christmas break most of the kids at the home for needy children where my wife and I are on staff, have some family member that they go to stay with.  But, there are always about a dozen charges that have no place to go.  Spending a week at the mission without the other kids there can be a depressing experience, so the staff members that stay behind usually do something special for the “left behinds”.  My compassionate wife, Anita, felt God’s love strings pulling at her heart way back in August, prompting her to begin planning a beach vacation for the ones with no place to go, including Run Away Lou.  She talked to some people and found a house we could rent for five days in the seaside city of Huatulco, Mexico.

The day for departure finally came, Christmas day, as a matter of fact.  We loaded the pickup with food, beach umbrellas and chairs, backpacks and blankets.  Some kids climbed into the pickup cab, while others filled the van, and away we went, into the sunrise.

The first couple of days were like any beach vacation you could imagine.  All the kids having the time of their lives. Splashing, swimming and even snorkeling in the warm surf.  Even Run Away Lou seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.  I have a photo of him playing in the water, and a video of him helping to cover my daughter Sally with sand.  Both record him with a winning smile having a great time.

But something clicked in his troubled 12 year old head early Sunday morning.  After awhile, no matter how good things seem to be going in his life, something seems to click, to turn pleasant thoughts into bad thoughts, and Lou gets the urge to Run Away.  And unfortunately he skedaddles  with other people’s money or things in his pocket.

He was discovered missing about 5am Sunday morning.  Also missing was the wallet from a staff member, his wife’s hearing apparatus and glasses, and my wife’s cell phone.  After a quick search, the wallet, now devoid of cash, was discovered in the pickup.  Later the hearing apparatus and glasses were found behind the toilet.  So, it could have been worse, but our boy, Run Away Lou was no where to be seen that day.

Roughly the same event occurred at the mission several months before. Again, something clicked in the boy.  Who knows what it was.  Maybe thoughts of a mother who abandoned him, or a father he never knew.  Maybe something as simple as a disciplinary matter he had to endure, or a chore he never wanted to do again.  Perhaps the enticing idea of a life on the lamb with a wad of cash in his pocket.  Whatever it was that made him snap, he left his room in the middle of the night, made his way to the visitors center, stole into the room of a sleeping volunteer from the States, rifled through his personal belongings, found a lot of pesos, and made his way into the night.  And while he seems fearless in his actions, he isn’t so bright once he makes his get away.  He walked a few hundred yards down the highway to a little motel and checked himself to catch 40 winks.

Again, him and the money were noticed missing in the early morn, and the search was on.  Within an hour he was spotted exiting the motel by a staff member.  The staff member was also spotted by Lou, and Lou made haste to make himself disappear.  He was found by a governmental social service agency a couple months later and taken to an uncle.  The uncle was none to excited to receive him, since Run Away Lou had absconded with the uncle’s pesos and possessions on more than one occasion.  So there he lived until the kind and merciful folks at the home for needy children decided to give him one more chance, knowing that his chances at any kind of future would be better at the mission than with an uncle who begrudgingly took him in.  We truly loved him and wanted him to be happy, as difficult as he could be.  After all, we are a home for NEEDY children, and Lou definitely fit that description.

Naturally he was kept on a short leash after his return.  He was shown lots of love, some of it Tough Love, but he seemed to accept it all as the natural course of things.  I think he knew that he had made a big mistake and was grateful for a second chance. After awhile the leash grew longer.  He was given more freedom and more responsibilities and to all appearances was doing well.  He often hugged our administrator who made the decision to bring him back.  She’s a  Chicago woman and was both appreciative  of his affection and also somewhat skeptical of his intentions.  I don’t know if being from Chicago has anything to do with being skeptical, but she was right to be wary.  She was also in Huatulco with some friends when everything went down.

She was probably awakened from a peaceful sleep at five in the morning  when she was alerted to Run Away Lou’s  latest escapade.  The adults left the house to try and track down our little Run Away Lou.  I drove the van with Anita and another staff member.  One other staff member was in the truck.  We all had an idea that Lou would want to get out of Dodge as soon as possible.  I don’t know why we thought that.  I guess that’s just the way adults think.  Any way, it gave us something to do.  We went to the bus terminals and van transportation services that take people to Oaxaca city.  We even went to taxis.  I had a picture of him on my Kindle, and another lady had his picture on her phone.  Anita showed his face to a group of taxi drivers, and incredibly, or blessedly, one driver remembered giving the kid a drive to a nearby hotel.  He took us to the hotel, but no luck.  The clerk at the hotel said yes, this boy did try to get a room about three in the morning, but was denied.  I’m not sure why.  The clerk said the boy then sat on the curb and played with a cell phone.

Well, after some more searching and reports to the local a authorities  police, and even a radio station, we gave up and took the rest of the kids back to the beach, albeit with heavy hearts.

That evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner out on the town, thanks to the generosity of a couple of Canadian churches who have a special place on their collective hearts for the children of Casa Hogar Oaxaca.  We went back to the house with full stomachs and concerned hearts and many of us fell into a fitful sleep, Run Away Lou still on our minds and in our prayers.

Evidently we were also on the mind of Run Away Lou.  Or at least our money and our possessions.  At about the same time that he had left the house the night before, he returned to the premises, to the scene of the crime.  In the dead of night he opened the big metal gate at the entrance of the property and let himself in.

I thought I had heard some kind of sound outside, but dismissed any idea that Run Away Lou had come back.  “This is the last place he would go” I thought to myself.  I was wrong.  A few minutes later he was discovered trying to make himself invisible at the end of the bed in the room next door.  Evidently he had been going for the tablet of a staff member sleeping in the room.  The same staff member who he had robbed the night before.  He had the charger in his pocket, and had grabbed the tablet off a high shelf in the darkened room.  Somehow it slipped from his fingers and banged on the floor.  The staff member awoke, investigated the noise, and Lou crouching at the foot of the bed.  We had him back, and now had to figure out what to do with him.

Once again the administer of the mission was called.  She told us that since we had reported him to the police, that we should take him to the police station and seek their help.  We didn’t want Run Away Lou to run away, so under close scrutiny we put him in the van and hauled him off to the police.

They didn’t want anything to do with him.  The city of Huatulco had no facilities for juvenile delinquents.  Since we were legally responsible for him, he was our problem.  They suggested we return him to his uncle, or take him to the appropriate authorities in Oaxaca city.  We decided on the former course of action.  At 2:57 am he was put aboard a van service with two adult males from our group to keep an eye on him and taken to Oaxaca.  There he was met by his very disappointed house father from the mission and delivered to his uncle.

So there it is, the tragic tale of Run Away Lou.  He was guilty, once again, of stealing from those who loved him, cared for him, and wanted nothing but the best for him.  He had it all. He spurned it all.  He gave it all up for a mess of porridge as it were, like Esau in the Bible.  He gave up making sand castles on the seaside for making mudpies in the slums as C.S. Lewis once said.

I mentioned that Lou was guilty, but that others were also culpable in his demise.  How about an absent father?  What about the mother who abandoned him?  I have never faced what our young Run Away Lou has had to face.  I can not even begin to imagine the thoughts that fill his mind, that perhaps torment his thoughts.  I do know that we have dozens of children at the home for needy children who have lived through similar harsh circumstances in life and are now flourishing under the loving care and guidance of staff members at the mission.  Why sharing God’s love, mercy and Grace with Lou didn’t “take”, I have no idea.  We all hope and pray that someday, like the prodigal son, that Run Away Lou will “come to his senses” and that instead of always running away, that he will run into the arms of our loving heavenly Father.  I hope and pray that someday Run Away Lou will become Run To The Father Lou.

So why did I title this story Putting the HAPPY in 2015?  Because, in a sense, we are all Run Away Lou’ s.  We are in the care of a God who loves us and wants us to be happy, just as Lou was in the midst of a community of Faith who loved him and wanted him to be happy.  God has provided the perfect recipe for happiness.  It’s called the Bible.  We have a choice to make.  We can choose to follow and obey the commands of the Bible and live in right relationship with God, or follow the inclinations of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and live in misery.  Lou made disastrous choices and is not happy.

This New Year, let’s run into the loving arms of the Father, abide in Christ, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and experience true happiness!

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wisdom happiness

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This morning I was thinking about the history of mankind, from Adam and Eve, to the new heavens and earth, and new Jerusalem.  From Genesis to Revelation.   I was thinking about the high points and low points; the great positives and negatives.  The first great positive was the creation of Adam and Eve.  The first great negative was the fall of Adam and Eve, and thus, all mankind.

In my mind there was a timeline, with blips to indicate the highs and lows.  In the middle of this time line was a the highest positive blip, signifying the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The greatest negative down blip was the fall.  The next biggest negative blip was something I read in 1Samuel 7.  The Israelites come to Samuel and tell him they want a king, like all the other nations.  Samuel, who was the spiritual leader at that time felt rejected and went before God.  God tells him not to worry, that the people have not rejected Samuel, but have rejected God.

That is huge!  Almost as huge as Adam and Eve ‘s falling to the temptation of the serpent, with similarities.  Adam and Eve rejected God’s command because they wanted to rule themselves.  The Israelites rejected God because they wanted a human king to rule them, rather than the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Both great sins came down to pride, arrogance and greed.  Both entities felt that God had given them the short end of the stick;  that God didn’t really love them and want them to be happy.  They believed that they could be happier doing things their way.

God has always wanted and chosen a people to be his own.  A people who would love him, follow him and do his will.  A people that he could bless, reveal himself to, and make happy and prosperous.  A people who would respond to his generosity by being generous themselves, both to God and their fellow man.  Thus, the second up blip on the historical timeline is God’s call of Abraham.  God did not call Abraham only for Abraham’s sake, but so that Abraham would be the father of a nation who God could call his own.  Through this man and this nation, God would bless all the people on earth.

This group of people would be initially called Hebrews.  The Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians.  God delivered these people from slavery in a miraculous way.  This is the third high point in the history of mankind and pointed to the ultimate high point in history when God would set people free from slavery to sin through Jesus death and resurrection.

The next high point after being set free from bondage in Egypt followed closely on the heels of this miraculous event.  This was the giving of the law on mount Sinai.  God was saying to his chosen people, “I love you and want you to be happy, so I am giving you these laws, precepts and commands.  If you continue to follow me by obeying these mandates, I will prosper you and you will be truly happy and will experience shalom. Slalom was a word the Jewish people used then to greet one another. It meant peace, prosperity, and joy.

Next followed a low point where the people showed they didn’t really believe that God loved them and wanted them to be happy. When it came time to possess the land flowing with milk and honey, they balked. Ten bad spies gave the report of giants in the land that made the Hebrews look like grasshoppers in comparison. Two good spies said the enemy was indeed large, but our God, who delivered us from the Egyptians is the real giant that will go before us and conquer the enemy. The Jews didn’t trust God and thus had to wander in the wilderness for forty years until the unbelieving generation died out and a believing generation rose up.

The believers went in and took the promised land. A definite high point.

The next century was filled with high blips and low dips as God’s chosen people alternatively worshiped and obeyed God, and then fell away and were disobedient. This cycle continued through the period of the Judges and then the kings. Finally, an awful low point occurred when first the ten tribes of Israel were conquered and taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and then Judah was humiliated by the Babylonians and taken into exile.

The prophets had warned the people of Israel and Judah that if they didn’t change their hearts and their ways that God would punish them and send them into exile. They didn’t and he did. The prophets also told of a time of restoration that would come. They told of a new covenant that would be written on hearts of flesh rather than tablets of stone. Daniel foretold of a Son of Man who would come into the world and inaugurate a new era; a new way to relate to God; a new way to experience peace and happiness.

The Son of Man was Jesus. He used the title Son of Man to refer to himself more than any other title. The incarnation of the Son of God, the Son of Man, was the high point on the time line of mankind. God with us, the beginning of the end. The end of the God’s presence in the holy temple in Jerusalem, along with the sacrificial system involving the blood of bulls and goats and lambs. The Lamb of God was the ultimate sacrifice that made a way for all mankind to receive forgiveness of sins, liberation from the bondage of Sin, and to enjoy God forever.

The ultimate high point will be the day when God creates the New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven.  God’s radiance will be our light, and his presence will be our joy.  We will enjoy Him, evermore free from tears, pain, loss, suffering and grief.  All will be glory and peace, and that is the point in mankind that I am looking forward to.  Come quickly!

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mankind

 

These are the three things that make up our lives.  What we do; what we want to do; what we should do.  Sometimes, rarely for me, they are all the same thing.  There is usually a bit of tension, or a lot of tension, between these three things.  Some would argue that there is no difference between what we do and what we want to do.  They say that people always do what they want to do.  If people wanted to do something else, they would do it.  They really don’t want to do something else, or they would do that instead.  I think that is true to some extent, but I also believe that there can be, and usually is, a struggle within our being of what we are doing in various situations, and what we would rather be doing.  That struggle is normally between our minds and our hearts. Between our intellect and our desires.

Think of your job.  Most people don’t really like their jobs, or if they do like their job, they can think of a different job that they would rather be doing.  I read a quote recently that said, “Choose a job you love and you will never  work a day in your life.”  I love that quote.  I think most of us can relate to, and even applaud the sentiment that is expressed.  If you love doing your job; if you wake up every morning looking forward to doing your occupation, then it seems more like play or an adventure than “work”.  You Do your job because you Want to do your job.

That is just one example of the tension many people encounter with doing something, and wanting to do that thing.  In most areas of life, from finances, to social life, to what we do in our leisure time, we can experience an inner struggle between what we are doing and what we want to do.

And, if the struggle between what we do and what we want to do is not enough, there is always another element to consider – What we Should do.

Consider the job example.  Perhaps a person has a job to do, a job they want to do, but there is a gnawing inside them that they should be doing something else.  They look at their job, and experience a certain amount of joy and satisfaction from that job, but occasionally they ask themselves, “in the end, Does it really matter?  Does it make a significant difference to anyone?  Am I alleviating pain and suffering for anyone but myself?  Am I helping to end world hunger or bring about world peace?  Am I doing anything to make the world a more beautiful place for anyone but myself and my family?  Should I really care about those things?  Ought I to concern myself with anyone but me?  And if so, Why?”

I believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  In his word to us he tells us many things that we should do.  Things that will make us happy.  He created us thus he knows what makes us happy.  All the things that we should do to be happy fall into two broad categories;  love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, And love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Think about when you fell in love.  Normally when we fall in love, we think about our boyfriend or girlfriend all the time.  We want to be with them all the time and can’t wait to receive a text message, email, phone call or letter from him or her.  We hang on every word from our beloved.  We give them cards and flowers and little gifts and big gifts. We talk and talk and talk and love being together. We do these things.  We want to do these things.  We should do these things.  It makes us happy to make them happy.

The same thing should happen with God.  He created us to be sublimely happy, full of joy, when we are in right relationship with him.  When we are spending time with him, reading his love letter to us, the Bible.  Our joy is increased when we are loving those in the community of faith as we love ourselves.  Our joy or happiness is complete when we venture into a hurting world and bring spiritual, physical and mental healing.

These things SHOULD happen with God and with others, but many times they don’t happen.  Martin Luther said that we struggle on a regular basis with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  These three enemies do not want us to love God and our fellow man.  They do everything in their power to keep our focus and energy and devotion on ourselves.

Do you struggle with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil?  Do you feel a tension within between what you do, what you want to do, and what you should do?  I do.  And you know what?  We are in good company.  The apostle Paul also battled.  In his greatest theological letter, the one he wrote to the Romans, he takes up a whole chapter talking about his personal struggle.  This mighty warrior of the faith, this saint of God, could have just left this portion of his epistle out, and it still would have been his greatest literary work.  But thank God he included it.  By writing the words that we call Romans seven,  He lets us know that it is normal to struggle with what we do, what we want to do, and what we should do.  Here’s the way he puts it:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  Romans 7:15-20

So this a normal human struggle, especially for a Christian who is trying to keep the commandments, who really wants to love God with all his or her being and really wants to love his or her neighbor as he loves himself or herself.  We find ourselves failing to meet this goal everyday, if not every hour.  It’s normal.  It is also normal to beat ourselves up about our failures.  But it is not acceptable to condemn ourselves.  Paul goes on to say in Romans eight that there is no condemnation from God for those who walk in the Spirit and not in the Flesh.  Walking in the Spirit doesn’t mean we don’t struggle, it means our goal in life is to love God and seek him first.  It means that we recognize our frequent failures and go regularly to our compassionate heavenly Father asking for forgiveness today and strength and insight for tomorrow to win more battles than we lose against the world, the Flesh, and the Devil.  We ask Him to  open the eyes of our hearts to the reality of What we do, What we want to do, and What we should do.

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kindness mother teresa

What image comes to mind when you think of God?  Some people think of a loving, compassionate father.  Other people can’t relate to God as father because they had a terrible father.  Some people think of God as a priest absolving them of their sins.  Other people can’t relate to God as a priest for a variety of reasons.  Some people think of God as a shepherd or king.  Other people can’t relate to God as either of those for cultural reasons.

I mentioned in my last post that sometimes people get the God that they want, that they can imagine and relate to.  In the parable of the talents or bags of gold, the first two servants saw their master as a kind man who saw their abilities and trusted them with his wealth.  The master rewarded their perception of him by inviting them to share his happiness.  The third servant saw his master as a hard, greedy, stingy man, and the master fulfilled his perception by throwing him out into darkness to grind his teeth.

Allen Coppedge, in his book Portraits of God, searched the Bible for the primary ways that God has chosen to reveal himself to us.  He found eight different images that God uses to help us relate to him, all based on God as a holy God.  Those images are God as Transcendent Creator, Sovereign King, Personal Revealer, Priest, Righteous Judge, Loving Father, Powerful Redeemer, and Good Shepherd.

Why does God use so many different pictures to reveal himself to us?  Because no one portrait of God is fully adequate to describe him.  Coppedge says that “multiple images are necessary for a holistic picture of God.”  Individual Christians, churches and periods in the history of the church, sometimes have had major problems because they emphasize one or two roles at the expense of others.  This gives an unbalanced picture of God and results in an unbalanced relationship with God.  If we want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we need to realize, appreciate and take hold of all the various ways God presents himself to us in  scripture.

I especially relate to God as Father and as Shepherd.  It makes me happy to think of God as a compassionate, loving Father who cares for me and supplies my needs.  Likewise the shepherd, the Good Shepherd who leads me to green pastures, cool waters and makes sure that I want for nothing.  But if that is my entire concept of God, and I don’t also consider God as King, Creator, Redeemer and Priest, then my relationship with God will be skewed and I will not be as happy and fulfilled as I otherwise would.

God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Seeing God in all his roles should make us happy, for in all His roles, he gives us good and happy gifts.  As Creator, he gives us life and a beautiful creation to enjoy.  As King, he gives us protection and boundaries to keep us safe.  As Personal Revealer, he  gives us insight into his nature.  As Priest he forgives our sins.  As Judge,  he shows us our great need for him and his help.  As Father he nurtures us.  As Redeemer he rescues us from slavery.  As Shepherd he leads us and guides us along the path of abundant life.  Our lives our less complete if we neglect to relate to God in any one of these roles.

As we read the Bible, meditate on the nature of God and appropriate the various roles of God into our hearts and minds, we will be truly happy people.

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The concept of God is the most determinative factor for all Christian theology and spiritual life.  A right understanding of the nature of God sets a proper pattern for systematic theology as well as for personal knowledge of God.  The most crucial question for any individual or church is, “What is God like?”  The answer to this question will determine both their doctrine and experience.  Allan Coppedge in Portraits of God

In  our Friday night Bible study last week we took a look at Matthew, chapter 8.  The whole chapter, and that of chapter 9 as well, are chuck full of miracles. You got your basic calming the storm, casting out demons, raising the dead and 7 healings, including the blind seeing, lepers cleansed, fever gone, paralyzed man walks, and a  woman’s bleeding is stopped.  Matthew writes in 8:16 that Jesus healed ALL the sick, and that this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah; “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

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Nathan and friend

In my last post I wrote about Jill, an ordinary Christian who helps out at the home for needy children in Oaxaca,Mexico.  I also mentioned she adopted two children.  The youngest is Nathan, whom she began to care for when he was an infant.  He is now two years old.  When she began to care for him, she was told that he had hepatitis c.  His mother was a drug addict.  Nobody would ever guess Nathan had this disease.  He was the picture of good health.  I took to calling him Bruiser because he looked so healthy and was so big.  Everything went along fine until about three weeks ago when his eyes started turning yellow.  Jill took him to the doctor who had tests done.  His liver count was about a hundred times higher than normal, and he was still hepatitis c positive.  His liver was failing.

Jill and Nathan got on a plane for the States, and saw a doctor in Chicago who specializes in children’s livers.  He took two hep c tests along with a host of other tests.  He told Jill to go back to Mexico, as there was not a lot that could be done treatment wise.  Nathan was showing some signs of improvement.  His body was fighting the virus, and all they could do was to monitor his liver.  The doctor told Jill that the hep c tests would not be ready for a week or so, and that he would contact her when they were ready.  Back in Mexico, little Nathan continued to improve.  So much so that Jill was able to travel to Foundation For His Ministry  (FFHM) children’s home in Morelia, to help them with a situation of a little girl who had fallen into a coma, and needed specialized treatment in Mexico City.  While in Morelia, a lady came up to Jill and told her that God had healed Nathan.  Jill was incredulous and simply said “Thank you.”  Shortly thereafter she received the results of the U.S. hep c tests.  Nathan had tested negative.  His body was clear of the hepatitis c disease.

But, he still has an abnormally high liver count.  He was healed of hepatitis c, but there is still a problem with his liver.  He didn’t receive the “whole healing”.  Why not?  When Jesus healed people they received the whole healing immediately.  But not Nathan, and perhaps, not you or me.  Sometimes we ask God fervently for healing of our aches and pains and diseases, and we are not healed.  After beginning my study of Matthew 8 + 9, I injured my back and was in pain.  I remembered what the leper said to Jesus, “if you are willing you can heal me.”  Jesus said, “I am willing” and healed the man.  So I said to Jesus, “if you are willing, you can heal me.”  Jesus seemed to say to me, “I am not willing.”  My back still hurts.  Why would Jesus say to one of his followers, one of his disciples, “I am not willing to heal you”?  I think the answer revolves around faith.  Faith is mentioned many times in these two chapters of Matthew.  Because of a person’s faith, or great faith, or the faith of friends or family members, people are healed.  So are we not healed today because we lack faith that Jesus can heal us?  Quite the contrary.  Any Christian who takes even a cursory look at the gospels sees that Jesus healed anyone and every one who came to him asking for healing.  Most Christians have no doubt that Jesus can heal them, which makes the question even more perplexing.   The issue is faith, but not faith that God can heal you or me, but faith in the idea that God loves us and wants us to be happy. If we believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then, even if we are not healed physically,  we will rejoice in God our maker, because in his wisdom and knowledge, he knows what we do not know about our future, namely, that somehow, someway, we will be happier by not being healed immediately of our physical infirmity.

Carmen is a good example of this.  I mentioned her in my last post as well.  She works in the mission school and is married to Fabian, the administrator.  She shared in devotions a couple weeks ago about having bone cancer when she was 15 years old.  She said it was a painful time; a scary time; and a time that she wouldn’t trade for the world.  Why?  Because of what she went through then, helped transform her into the happy person she is now.  She told the story of the prognosis – bone cancer in her ribs.  Her doctor said they would take out a couple of ribs, and then begin chemotherapy.  Sure enough, they took out two ribs, and after recovering from surgery, she went back to the hospital to begin chemo.  The doctors prepared her for the treatment, and then discovered that Carmen had not eaten anything, and she needed to eat something, so she went to the cafeteria to get some food.  In the meantime, the doctor received some test results back from the Mayo Clinic.  A doctor there said that if one more rib was taken out, that might cure her and she wouldn’t have to have chemo.  The doctor at the hospital discussed the situation with Carmen and her family, and they decided on removing the third  rib.  After the rib was removed, she was tested for cancer, was found to be cancer free.  She was checked regularly after that for eight years and remained cancer free.

Carmen and Ollie

Carmen and Ollie

Ask her if she would change anything about that time in her life and she would tell you, “NO.”  Why not?  Because during this difficult time in her life, a lot of her friends grew distant and stopped coming around.  She said that was a good thing, because girls from her church became her new friends, comforting her, helping her, being there for her.  Later on in life, some of her old “friends” got involved in drugs and one even went to jail.  So that was one positive – New Friends, which became True Friends.  Secondly, she thinks about all the adolescents who fight and argue and rebel against their parents, especially their mothers.  If she didn’t have cancer, she could see herself going down that path, but with the cancer, her mother became her primary care giver, and they developed a close bond that continues to this day.  Because of the faith of  her friends and mom, she grew in her faith and dependence on God.  Her love for Him grew incredibly.  After high school she went to Bible College and then began serving God along with FFHM in the Baja peninsula.  Now she is enjoying and glorifying God here in Oaxaca.

Finally, the mission pastor here showed a few short video clips of an incredible man named Nick during his sermon last Sunday.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  He begged God to heal him, to give him arms and legs, as a boy.  He wanted to be normal, like all the other boys.  God didn’t give him arms and legs.  He begged God for a reason why He made him so different from everyone  else.  He tried to commit suicide in the bathtub at age eight.  He wasn’t successful, partly because he thought of the great love his parents had for him, and how bad they would feel if he killed himself.  Finally he came to the realization that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  On the video clips he looked like one of the happiest people I have ever seen, as he travels the world telling people that God loves them and gave his Son for them, so that, they too, could be full of joy, peace and purpose.

Ultimately all Christians are healed.  Sometimes they are healed by a supernatural touch from God. A lot of times they are healed by the bodies natural healing process.   Other times they are healed by medicines and doctors.  If they die, they are risen to new, healthy lives, living in the immediate presence of our loving heavenly Father.  One way or another, we all experience healing, the whole healing, and nothing but the healing, so, thank you God!

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It is not the miraculousness of God’s acts that constitutes their significance, it is their redeeming and informing and instructing content.  God’s miraculous activity is not against nature but against sin.  A miracle is not an abnormal or unnatural occurrence presupposing the normality of nature, but a redeeming reinstatement of the normality of world and life through the new dominion of God, which stands antithetically against the kingdom of this world.  Miracles cause surprise because people have become accustomed to the abnormality of sin and its curse of death and terror.  Terrance Tiessen in Providence and Prayer