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The Apostle Paul wrote 13 letters that are in the Bible. In his introductorygrace peace remarks at the beginning of each letter he includes this salutation, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the concluding remarks of his epistles he writes, “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Peter wrote two letters. He begins his letters with the phrase, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” He ends his first letter with these words, “Peace to all who are in Christ.” The second letter ends with “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

I think grace and peace are the most important possessions we can have to be truly happy people. We need the grace and peace that comes from God to enjoy God in His happy kingdom.

Think of Paul before his close encounter with Christ. He claims that as for righteousness based on the law he was faultless, and as for zeal he persecuted the church (Philippians 3:6). He thought he could do it all spiritually speaking. He certainly tried, but apart from the grace of God he had no peace. Imagine the peace that flooded his soul when he encountered the grace that come from trusting Jesus and living in right relationship with God.

Think of Peter, living and learning from Jesus for three years. Boasting that he would never deny the Lord, willing to die for him if necessary. Hours later Peter claimed vehemently that he never knew Jesus. Jesus looked at Peter as Peter made his last denial while the rooster was crowing. He fled in tears. Not a lot of peace there. But later, he received abundant grace and forgiveness and was able to live and ultimately die, crucified upside down, in great peace.

It’s no wonder Paul and Peter begin and end their letters with reminders to their readers of grace and peace that are only found in Jesus Christ. It defined their lives. Those qualities of grace and peace were the foundation of everything they believed and did.

What did they have in mind when they used the words grace and peace.

With grace they meant the free gift of God that comes through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. This gift, totally undeserved by humans, transforms mere existence into Life, survival into thriving and flourishing.

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but a deep and abiding sense that in the turmoil, confusion, pain and loss that we experience living in this broken world, there is Someone who is ultimately in control; a Savior who not only keeps us from going crazy, but who imbues us with a feeling of contentment. A God who loves us and wants us to be happy.

I live in Mexico and cooperate with God at a home for needy children. In the last two weeks we have experienced two really big earthquakes – an 8.2 and a 7.1 that caused incredible damage and took the lives of almost 400 people. Fortunately, by the grace of God, there was no physical damage to any of the buildings here at the mission, but many of the children, including my own two daughters, are constantly aware of what could possible happen and are reminded almost daily with the aftershocks. We felt four yesterday. To some extent we all waver between nervousness about whether or not there will be another earthquake, to outright fear. My daughters talk about earthquakes many times a day and sleep with us at night for fear of more of them.

I don’t understand much about God and natural disasters and suffering and loss. I can’t figure out exactly why God does what he does. I am perplexed at many turns on lifes long road. But I am grateful to God for that Peace that brings wholeness and well-being. That peace of God that makes me secure on the inside, even though things appear miserable on the outside. That peace of mind that comes from the God of peace. The peace of God which transcends all understanding and guards my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. The peace I have when I trust in the LORD with all my heart, and lean not on my own reasoning.

Peter and Paul begin and end their letters with Grace and Peace. May we begin each day by meditating and contemplating the incredible grace we have through Christ, and end each day thanking God for peace in our lives.

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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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A question I have is how do you define Heart?  It’s a vital concept to be considered in the Bible.  After all, the first, greatest commandment says “Love God with all your heart.”  Yet what is meant by Heart?  It is a question I have asked myself many times.  I think Heart refers to our desires and motivation.  Many Christian writers through the ages have said that the base desire of all humans is to be happy.  People desire that which will make them happy.  People who have had the eyes of their hearts (desires) opened ( Ephesians one), realize that desiring God and His will is the ultimate road to happiness.  We have this constant struggle between satisfying the desires of the flesh  (which brings immediate gratification and is quickly lost) and desiring the things of God  (delayed gratification in most cases, in which the happiness has an eternal effect).  Ideally we deny the flesh and enjoy God.

 

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 Happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

Psalm 144:15

 

 

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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

 

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God puts the Happy in the Happy New Year and crowns our lives

with ABUNDANCE when we abundantly worship him.

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God loves us and wants us to be happy –

Christmas season and all year round!

Have you ever asked yourself that question?  Why the Devil is there a Devil?  I have.  I deluxe-devil-maskmean, think about it.  Before God created anything, he knew that there would be a Devil.  In fact it was part of his plan.  In his omniscience he knew the Devil would tempt Eve, and that she would sin, and mankind would suffer pain and turmoil for a long, long time.

I have been reading Job for the last month, and page after page, chapter after chapter, I am confronted with his great trials, tribulation, and loss.  He wouldn’t have had to endure such great suffering if there was no devil.  Even worse, he would not have had to endure what he did if God had not allowed the Devil to do what he did.  We would not have to suffer if God had not allowed the Devil to exist.

So one thing we can be sure about, it is God’s fault!

And everyone said, “Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!”

Well, if you didn’t say it, you should have.  Why?  Because God does love us and does want us to be happy.  Our task is to figure out how having the Devil and his minions in the world can possibly be something to cheer about.

I have been thinking more intently about this because in our morning devotions at the home for needy children in Oaxaca,  Mexico, a brother was sharing about a mission trip he recently took, and how the Devil was opposing them.  He told some stories to indicate how the demonic forces were battling him and his good work.

My first thought was, when it comes to the Devil and his power, and God and his power, it’s like comparing a little kid with a squirt gun and the U S A with a thousand nuclear weapons.  So the question arises, why does God allow the puny, weak devil to hinder the work of the Gospel?  There are different Bible verses that indicate that God does indeed allow battles and struggles against the Devil, and that even tell us how to do battle against the Evil One.  Why?

In thinking about this, I at first chalked it up to one of those great mysteries that we will not be able to understand this side of Gloryland.  But then I got an idea of perhaps one reason why.  There might be a hundred reasons why, but I am thrilled if I can come up with even one reason that might be at least partially correct.

Here it is.  The Bible tells us, and Martin Luther emphasizes this, that we battle not only against the Devil, but also the world and the flesh.  In fact our greatest enemy is our flesh, meaning our evil desires.  The devil and the world just come along and encourage and direct and entice the flesh, the evil desires, to greater heights until we basically destroy ourselves and often times those around us.

Eve ‘s biggest combatant around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not Satan in snake clothes.  It was her flesh.  Why was she even close to the tree?  If God prohibited eating the fruit from that tree, then the best thing to do would have been to avoid it altogether.  But Eve, like most of us, is tempted with the idea, presented to us by the lust of the flesh, to get as close to sin as we can, without actually sinning.  The biggest part of the “flesh”, is pride.  We think we are strong enough to get close to sin, without actually sinning.

It all started with her pride.  Pride brought her close to the tree.  Pride caused her to listen to the serpent.  Pride caused her to consider Satan’s words.  Pride caused her to pick the fruit and pride caused her to take a bite, thus changing her future, and that of humanity forever, or what seems like forever.

John tells us that sin is caused by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Paul says sin begins with an evil desire of the flesh, which conceives and gives birth to death.  Both of these Apostles didn’t need to look any farther than the example of Eve.

The Devil has been in the business of tempting people to sin for thousands of years and has gotten pretty good at it.  It isn’t really all that difficult for him, since the root of sin abides in each one of us.  Many Christian scholars say that humanity has a “bent” towards sin.  That is our default mode. The Devil just comes along to make the sin more approachable and more destructive, and the world is along for the ride, cheering us on every step of the way.

So back to the question, WHY the devil is there a Devil?  I think God allows the Devil, and the flesh for that matter, to exist to show us how weak we are without God in our lives.  Paul battled the Devil daily.  If that wasn’t enough of a struggle for him, he was also given a “thorn in the flesh” by God, no less.  Did he complain about the Devil and the flesh and the thorn?  No, he thanked God because those things reminded him of his weakness,  and staring his weaknesses in the face, reminded him of his great need and dependence on God.  They brought him closer to God.  They reminded him that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  Paul knew that when he looked to God for help, that God was right there to strengthen him and help him overcome.  Paul concluded that when he was weak, he was strong.

So we thank God and rejoice that there is the Devil, in the sense that we recognize that he is incredibly weak compared to God, and that if we are for God, and God is for us, then who can be successfully against us?   Certainly not the Devil.  We can sing with Martin Luther the great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God.

 

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

 

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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