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“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

The staff at Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World), a home for needy children here in Oaxaca, Mexico, which is part of FoundationFor His Ministry, recently began a five day study of what it means for Christians to live in community.  I felt like this was an important topic for us to delve into, since we are a faith community with almost two dozen staff members and sixty children, and we had never had an in-depth study of what the Bible or Christian leaders have to say about this important topic.

A book that has heavily influenced my perspective on Christian community, is called Life Together,  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I took the first devotional/teaching session to present Bonhoeffer’s ideas of what living in community is all about.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian, professor and pastor when Hitler was in power.  He was ultimately executed by Hitler for his anti Hitler activities.  He was head of a Christian community in Germany for awhile and wrote his little book Life Together to help other Christians who lived in community or who were considering the idea.
In our first devotional study time I handed out two pages of quotes from Life Together.  Here are some of my favorites:

The goal of Christian community – Meeting one another as bringers of the message of salvation.

Be thankful – Enter into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.

Jesus Christ alone is our unity – Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.

Priorities – It is more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to his son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today.

Learning – Only in fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship; both begin with the call of Christ.

Meditation – The period of personal meditation is to be devoted to the scriptures, private prayer, and intercession.  If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness.

Meekness – He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself.

Helpfulness – We must allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.  God will be constantly canceling our plans by sending us people with needs that we can meet.

Jill, the assistant administrator of the children’s home also spoke about living in community.  She looked at community from a theological point of view.  She used the book called Community 101 as her guiding light.  This book talked about how community began with God, the Trinity, three in one, the first community.  Then God created Adam, and God declared that it was not good that man was alone.  Man was created to live in community, and God created Eve, from one of Adams ribs.  Thus the first human community.

Satan hates all things that God creates as good and beautiful, and seeks to destroy them, especially community.  His first attack was against community.  An essential element of community between God and man, and mankind living in community, is trust.  Satan attacks community by attacking trust.  He convinced Eve that God could not be trusted, and thus destroyed the perfect community that man had with God, and in the process, the community Adam and Eve had.  Satan continues to try and destroy Christian community, and those living in community must be ever vigilant regarding their thoughts, words and actions, lest the Evil One drive a wedge between its members.

Below are some quotes from Community 101:

Primacy of oneness – God is  eternally one.  When he created us in his image, he created oneness.

God’s gift of oneness – God’s supreme achievement was not the creation of solitary man, but the creation of human community.

Centrality of oneness – The quality of human communities depends on our willingness to be dependent on God.

Commitment to community – For a church to develop and maintain oneness is not a take-it-or-leave-it option.  It is a priority and a mandate.  We need to be constantly reminded of our true identity as a community of oneness.

God calls us to have a “personal relationship” with Him.  But that is not the end all and be all of what it means to  be a Christian.  God brings us into right relationship with Him, so that we can be part of the “called out ones”; the church; the community of faith; the  body of Christ.  God created community because He loves us and wants us to be happy.  I know that is true for me.  Although I have gone to church most of my life, and been a member of different churches, and done church for most of 50 years, I have not experienced such joy and happiness and fulfillment since I became part of this Christian community in Mexico called Cristo Por Su Mundo.  Instead of “doing” church, we are “being” the church that God called His followers to be.

Thinking on this, I am reminded of the breakfast illustration of ham and eggs.  In the making of this breakfast the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.  Most Christians are involved in a Christian community, living at the fringes of what God truly intends for His disciples.  I think God wants all His children to take the plunge, and commit to living in community.  That is the way He wired us in order to truly glorify Him by enjoying Him.

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There are many things which a person can do alone, but being a Christian is not one of them. As the Christian life is, above all things, a state of union with Christ, and of union of his followers with one another, love of the brethren is inseparable from love of God. Resentment toward any human being cannot exist in the same heart with love to God. The personal relationship to Christ can only be realized when one has “come to himself” as a member of His Body, the Christian fellowship.

William T. Ham

I was released from prison last Tuesday at 5:43 pm.  A prison guard walked me to the main gate, put his key in the lock,opened the huge metal door and let me out.  I was a free man.  It felt great to be free, to be liberated from the iron bars and concrete walls.  But I was also thinking of the friends that I had left behind.  Bernardo, Aries, Guillermo, Armando, and Marzalino to name a few. I was sad that they were still doing time.  Oh well, I thought, I will be able to encourage them next Tuesday.
Your see, I teach an English class at a prison that is across the highway from Cristo Por Su Mundo, (Christ for the world), home for needy children, where I live with my family, and participate with God in helping “the least of these” as Jesus referred to the oppressed and downtrodden of the world.  These include the children and prisoners that most of humanity forgets about and leaves behind.  Every Tuesday afternoon I walk across the highway and enter a whole new world.  I get to leave after a few hours.  My students, my friends, have to stay.

One day I was walking alone in the hills that surround this mission.  This was about five years ago.  I was talking to God about my life.  I was thanking Him that he allowed me to cooperate with Him at the home for needy children.  I was thinking how fortunate I am to be participating in the Divine Nature that Peter talks about in 2 Peter 1 (see my last blog).  Part of participating with God is to make beauty; to  make the world a more beautiful place everyday, and I am able to do that by planting and maintaining the gardens here at the mission.  But I was thinking, what else could I do?   God, what else do you want me to do?  What else can we cooperate on in helping this hurting world?   Then the verse from Matthew 25, “I was in prison and you did not visit me.”  The words of Jesus on the last day, judgement day, convicting me.

The mission already had a couple of preachers and teachers who would go to  the various prisons in the area to minister in word and song, and I felt like I could and should do something different, to reach out to other prisoners and help them in a way that they could get a sense of  the love of God, without a Bible preacher or teacher.  The idea came to me that I could teach an English class.  Before I came to Mexico, I had never taught English, but I realized that the most important thing about being a teacher of anything, is to simply know more than your students.  So I decided I was qualified and at the request of some people here at the home for needy children, I began teaching English.  That was going well, so now I would be going across the highway to the prison to see if anyone there wanted to learn English.  There was- and I was there to stay, at least for about three hours every Tuesday afternoon.

All my students are great.  I can’t believe any of them have done anything to deserve prison.  I have never asked any of them why they are, or were, there.  I don’t think  it is any of my business.  When I see them, I don’t want to see them as murderers, thieves, rapists, drug dealers or extortionists.  I want to see them as people who were created in the image of God, people who have made mistakes in life, as I have.  People who want to learn English, but more important people who want a friend, people who want to hear the Good News of God’s love, even if it is in the context of an English class.  The students come  and go, both to class and to and from prison.  Two of my students were released, and within months were back in prison, back in my class.  Most have been released and are leading productive lives.

I don’t understand a lot about the Mexican judicial system, but it seems that you are guilty until proven innocent, and you don’t get a trial before a judge.  What happens is you are accused, sent to prison, and then your lawyer writes to the judge, explaining your side of the situation, then the other lawyer answers with a letter, and it goes back and forth like that until the man is declared not guilty and gets out of prison, or is found guilty and continues to live behind bars.  This process can go on for years. There are two sections to this prison; one for people who have been conviction, the other for dozens of men and women who are “on trial” in their cells.   One of my favorite students, a very intelligent man, who speaks remarkably good English, has been in prison for the whole time I have been teaching, waiting for his case to be resolved.

I have had some students who have been in prison in the U.S. and in Mexico.  I ask them what is the major difference.  They tell me that if you are in prison in the U.S., you are probably guilty.  If you are in prison in Mexico, there is a good chance that you are innocent.

The situation for many in prison in Mexico is tragic.  Many prisoners feel helpless, and that their situations are hopeless.  I thank God that He  reaches out to those men and women behind bars and concrete walls, and reaches into their hearts with hope, mercy, love and grace.  While many suffer injustice from the system, they receive joy and peace from God.  While the government says “You are to live incarcerated in prison”  God says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

I thank God that I am free, on the outside and the inside.  I also thank God for setting the captives free; free in spirit; free in heart; free in soul.  Those whom the Son sets free, are free indeed.

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Stone walls do  not a  prison  make, Nor iron bars a cage ;

Minds innocent and quiet take that for an heritage;

If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above, enjoy such liberty.

Richard Lovelace (1618-1658), from To Althea, from Prison

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Next blog – Life in One Mexican Prison

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

Anita serving up atole

Anita serving up atole

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

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

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

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

Cooking tubs of tamales

Cooking tubs of tamales

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

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

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

Sisters in Christ helping to prepare a feast for the fiesta

Sisters in Christ helping to prepare a feast for the fiesta

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

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

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

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

Arturo broadcasting the Good News on Radio Zapoteca

Arturo broadcasting the Good News on Radio Zapoteca

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

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

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Next blog – Beauty, Truth and Goodness

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

1.  Develop a close relationship with God.jesus

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

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

2.  Have a strong moral base.

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

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

3.  Show mercy and compassion to the poor.

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

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

4.  See your work as a gift from God.

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

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

5.  Think of others as better than yourself.

{love and happiness}

{love and happiness} (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

6.  Say “Thank you”.thank you

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

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

7.  Embrace silence and solitude.

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

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

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

8.  Don’t talk so much.dont talk

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

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

9.  Delight in God’s Word.bible pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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