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“Mejor de lo que merezco.” That was the answer Enrique gave me when I asked him, “How are you?”

“Better than I deserve.”

Enrique was the leader of prison ministry here at the Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico, where we minister to a lot more than needy children. He was in his late sixties and in good health. In his seventies his health began to deteriorate and he started to have a lot of physical problems. They got so bad that he had to dramatically cut back his visits to the prison.

My wife and I went to visit him a few weeks ago. Now, in his early eighties, he talked about blood in his urine, prostrate cancer, recent surgeries and showed us a swollen leg. Yet, when we arrived and I asked him “Como esta?” (How are you?), he gave me the same answer he always gives anyone who asks him that question, “Mejor de lo que merezco.” (Better than I deserve.)

I love that answer and use it myself on occasion. It is a very biblical answer. No matter how good or bad we feel, behave, or think, we are always treated by God way better than we deserve.

We deserve punishment. We deserve condemnation. We deserve eternal fire and the worm that does not die. We deserve a crown of thorns on our head and nails piercing our hands.

At least that’s what the Word of God says. God commands us to “be holy as I am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) God commands us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourself. (Matthew 22:37-39).

We dreadfully fail to obey these commands and thus deserve to suffer the wrath of God. Paul, in Romans three pours gas on the fire by exclaiming:

There is no one righteous, not even one.

There is no one who seeks God.

All have turned away, they have together become worthless.

There is no one who does good.

There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Most people look at themselves and think that they are pretty good. They compare themselves with others and declare, “I’m not that bad!” I do a lot of good things to help people so I deserve a reward from God and man.

But when we compare ourselves with the Judge, God Almighty, we fall dismally short of what he wants from us and deserve to be punished.

Lamentations 3:22-23 happily tells us that “Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Mercy means not getting what we deserve. Mercy means not being punished. Mercy means not suffering the wrath of God. Mercy means not being condemned. Mercy means not being consumed. Jeremiah comforts God’s people by letting them know that God’s mercies are new every morning, which is great news because we sin and disappoint God every morning, every minute, every moment, and we desperately need his mercy!

So, “How are you?” I bet you are better than you deserve. I certainly am.

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Have you experienced complete joy lately? Full joy? Today is Memorial Day. Maybe you are hoping for a day full of happiness with a big barbecue with friends and family or a day at the lake relaxing and playing with the kids.

Jesus tells us how to get and keep complete joy in John 15. It is simple. “Keep my commands” he says. Ok, maybe not so simple, especially when Jesus elaborates and declares in verse 17, “This is my command: Love one each other.”

Well, that explains why there is so little joy in the world. There is an extreme lack of loving one another. We are so busy loving ourselves that we don’t do a lot of loving one another and so we don’t experience a whole lot of joy, not to mention complete joy.

Complete joy. We all like the sound of that. Not partial joy. Not a little taste of happiness and pleasure (which is one definition of joy), but an unending feast of complete joy. We all have different ideas about how that might be attained and how we might possibly keep it. Most of our ideas are wrong.

Jesus describes what love looks like in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Love is sometimes extreme inconvenience and interruption. Sometimes it’s costly and dirty. It is always helping someone in need. Sometimes it’s someone we don’t agree with and don’t really like. Love isn’t liking someone. Love is helping someone who really needs help.

That kinda love sounds kinda crazy. Sounds a bit difficult, or a lot difficult. It is, but it is well worth the complete joy that comes with it, or after it. What Jesus endured on the cross while suffering shame, pain and rejection, didn’t give him a lot of joy. But Hebrews tells us that he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. Sometimes we have to endure a lot in loving others so that we can experience the complete joy that Jesus is talking about it John 15.

I came to Mexico 14 years ago to help needy children. Children that have been abused, abandoned, neglected, rejected and left to die on the roadside of life. I work with a group of like minded Christians who are cooperating with God and Foundation For His Ministry in making this world a better place by helping the poorest of the poor in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s not always easy. We don’t always get along or agree on the best way to help the least of these in this part of the world. We fail in some way everyday, but because of the grace and mercy of God we can experience complete joy. I have never been happier in my life.

Jesus promises complete joy, full happiness, when we love each other as Jesus loves us. Sometimes it hurts. Many times it can be unpleasant, but in the end it is worth it. Take a chance on that kind of love, and see what happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you God for not giving up on Cretans!

mercy

The most significant aspect of the Happy Kingdom of God is LOVE.  I read in my morninglove and hate devotions Psalm 147.  Verse 11 says, “the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”  It all starts with the Kings love for his subjects.  For his children.  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).  The King is a merciful Savior.  “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4,5).

When our spiritual eyes and hears are opened to this marvelous love, our natural inclination is to attempt to love  God back with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  We know we will be happier if we do that.  We fail at that attempt everyday, but the fact that we desire to love God with all of our being is what sets Christians apart from non-Christians.  Jesus teaches us to pray to our loving Father everyday,  “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.  And in great love and mercy he does forgive us.

What about hate.  With our loving God is there room for hate?  Actually there is.  The Bible tells us that God hates!  What does he hate?  Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things that God hates, seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes

a lying tongue

hands that shed innocent blood

a heart that devises wicked schemes

feet that are quick to rush into evil

a false witness who pours out lies

and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”

Also Psalm 5:4-6

“For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;

with you, evil people are not welcome.

The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.

You hate all who do wrong;

you destroy those who tell lies.

The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.” 

Some people say God loves the sinner but hates the sin.  According to these passages God hates some people – A false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.  I live in a Christian community and I can understand why God would hate these two types of people.

He also seems to hate all who do wrong, according to David in Psalm 5.  Then he must hate me, because sometimes I do wrong.  But David goes on to say in verse seven, “But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.”  He seems to be saying that what is your hearts desire is important.  In fact it makes all the difference.  If your heart desires to do wicked, evil, wrong things, then God hates you.  If your heart desires to fear and show reverence to God, then he loves you.

We should love the things God loves and hate the things God hates, if we want to be Godlike, if we want to honor and glorify Him and enjoy Life in the Happy Kingdom.

 

 

happy2

“Because they love me”, says the LORD, –

I will rescue them

I will protect them

I will answer them

I will be with them in trouble

I will deliver them

I will honor them

I will satisfy them with long life

I will show them my salvation

Psalm 91

 

christmas6God, open the eyes of our hearts to get a glimpse

of the height and depth and length and width of your

immense love for us,

and then help us to spread it around.

 

christmas4

God loves us and wants us to be happy –

Christmas season and all year round!

When most of us get up in the morning we have a good idea of what we need to, or want to do that day.disappointment  We have To Do lists or  check a daily planner that we check.  Sometimes our day actually goes the way we hoped it would go.  Many times it does not.  What is our reaction when things don’t go our way?  Frustration?  Anger?  Depression?  Anxiety?  Usually our reaction depends on the extent to which we are inconvenienced or the magnitude of the interruption of our plans, or whether we perceive the change of plans as positive or negative.

A few days ago I went out to the soccer field at the home for needy children where I cooperate with God in blessing poor children.  I am the gardener and one of my jobs is to water the soccer field every morning.  It’s usually a simple, mundane task.  I go into the room that houses the water pump, push the power lever up, the pump goes on and the playing field is irrigated.

On this particular day, I found the door locked.  I never lock it.  Evidently someone, probably one of the kids,  was fooling around and inadvertently closed the door and locked it.  I had to walk back to my house, find the key and unlock it.  My plans for the day had already been thrown off kilter, although mildly.  With key in hand I trudged back to the pump house, unlocked the door, and threw the power switch.  The 5h.p. pumped roared to life, but no water came out of the sprinkler.
The pump had lost its prime, which happens occasionally.  I keep a water bucket handy just in case.  Normally the water bucket actually has water in it, or I can dip it into the 10,000 liter cistern to fill it up.  That day the bucket was dry and the cistern too low to get any water.  I had to take the bucket to a faucet, fill it up, and carry it back to prime the pump.  A bumpy start to my well planned day.  I had an uneasy feeling that this was not going to be my day.  Fortunately, when I turned on the power, water shot out of the sprinkler, and I was back to my regularly scheduled day.

I tell this story to illustrate a point.  When something interrupts my plans or expectations, I think negatively.  In the account above, I blamed irresponsible kids for locking the door.  When I had to go for water, I figured it was going to be “one of those days!”  Maybe your the same way.  It’s what the old positive thinker, Zig Zigler called “stinking thinking”.  What if we considered every interruption of our plans, an interruption by a God who loves us and wants us to be happy?

A verse that I have been thinking about a lot lately is 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”  One reason that I have been thinking about this verse is that I listened to a teaching on YouTube from Dallas Willard.  He mentioned that when he goes to teach or preach, that he prepares thoroughly, but that he also hopes and expects that when he is teaching, something unexpected will happen.  He wants something that he has not prepared for to happen.  Why?  Because of 1Corinthians 2:9.  He loves God and hopes that God has prepared something for him that he has not conceived of.

What a great attitude.  I want that attitude.  I want to constantly have the mindset that when something I have not prepared for happens, that it is a gift from God who loves me and wants me to be happy.  A God who knows everything and who knows me better than I know myself.  He created me and knows what makes me tick, therefore he throws things in my path from time to time that I have not prepared for or conceived of.

I think that we have all been going about our day and out of the blue we find some money.  Maybe a ten dollar bill in the gutter, or a couple of bucks in the washing machine.  How do we feel?  Great.  It’s a pleasant surprise to find money.  It’s something unexpected that we didn’t prepare for.  I think we should have the same attitude toward whatever unexpected event happens in our lives.  Even if on the surface it appears bad or negative.  As Christians we know that ALL THINGS work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  We also know that IN EVERYTHING we should give thanks, for this is God’s will (1 Thes. 5).

The greatest, unexpected thing happened over two thousand years ago in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem.  God became flesh and dwelt among us.  No one saw that coming.  No one had ever conceived of such a thing.  A savior, Our Savior was born!  Who would have thought?  Who could have known?  Nobody.  But God did it because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

So how about, the next time that we are having one of those days, and nothing seems to be going right, we pause for a minute and thank God for intervening in our well planned, well organized day, because He has prepared something better for us.

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He that believes that everything that happens to him is for the best, cannot possibly complain for the want of something better.  From A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

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

I made up a new song a couple days ago. It’s called I’m So Glad I’m Not a Worm.  It’s sung to the tune of Everybody Ought to Know. earthworm It goes like this:

I’m So glad I’m not a Worm

I’m So glad I’m not a Worm

I’m So glad I’m not a Worm

Eating dirt all day.

It was originally called I’m So Glad I’m not a Dog.  It came to me as I was taking a pail of table scraps out to the compost pit at the back of the mission.  As I approached, three mongrel dogs crawled out of the pit and scampered away.  I thought how glad I was that I wasn’t a dog like that, and began singing, “I’m so glad I’m not a dog.” As I thought about those words, I realized that there are probably some people in the world that would like to be dogs, especially a pet dog in the United states.  Most pet dogs in the U.S. have it made.  They have all the comforts of home.  They live better than most people in the world. I read recently that in 2012, Americans spent over 53 billion dollars on their pets, a large majority of those pets being dogs.  I read a mission web site that said that Americans spent as much  money on their pets Halloween costumes as they did on helping to send the gospel message to the unreached people groups of the world (310 million dollars).  It’s a dog’s life, and it’s a pretty good one.    So I changed the words to I’m So Glad I’m not a Worm.  Although I expect to receive a scathing email any day now from the NAAW (National Association for the Advancement of Worms).

What I am really saying when I sing “I’m so glad I’m not a  worm” is that I am glad that I  am a chosen, elected, predestined from the foundations of the earth, child of God,  who daily experiences the riches of God’s love, mercy, grace, kindness, gentleness, goodness and provision of all my daily needs and most of my wants because He Loves Me and wants me to be happy.  Much better than being a worm.  Although, maybe I am a worm at heart, or used to be.

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Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

At The Cross by Isaac Watts

Why Am I Here?

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