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Rejoice – verb – feel or show great joy or delight

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I have been reading Deuteronomy lately. Three times in chapter 12 the Israelites are instructed to rejoice. Two of these instances hearken back to my last post. Moses relays God’s instructions to the people that when they take control of the Promised Land they are to gather in a place that God will designate and offer sacrifices and offerings and rejoice. They are to celebrate God and his rich blessings that he had given them.

The third instance of “rejoice” in the chapter occurs in verse 18. Moses tells everyone that they are to rejoice before the Lord their God in everything that they put their hand to. This reminded me of what Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” ( Philippians 4:4)

Moses told the people to rejoice in everything they put their hands to, and Paul tells people in the church emphatically to rejoice in the Lord always. After meditating on these words I decided, at least for one day, to be intentional about rejoicing in the Lord.

I get up pretty early most mornings, and when I went outside to begin my workday, it was still dark, and the sky was filled with stars. I rejoiced in this beautiful sight and gave thanks to God for his marvelous creation. All those stars! God didn’t have to make all those stars, but he did because he loves us and wants us to be happy. He wants us to rejoice, to feel great joy and delight.

I’m the gardener at the home for needy children here in Oaxaca, Mexico. One of my jobs is to water the soccer field. I turned on the sprinkler and rejoiced that we have water that keeps the field green and the kids have a wonderful place to play their favorite sport.

My wife, Anita, is the kitchen supervisor and was making breakfast that morning. Walking into the kitchen I rejoiced in the dedicated wife that God has given me, and that we could work together in ministry. Helping her make quesadillas I rejoiced that the children and staff would have a healthy, nutritious meal to start their day. I thought of Jesus words, ” I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…When you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.” I wondered what the children would have had for breakfast, if anything, if it wasn’t for this home for needy children.

Afterwards I drove some of the teenage girls to their school in Oaxaca city. I rejoiced that they could go to a private Christian school and get a quality education that would prepare them for whatever career they might choose. I rejoiced that God chose me to be a part of their lives, to make a difference in who they are and what they would become.

And so went the day, rejoicing intentionally in the Lord and all that I put my hands to. I realized that no matter what we do, we have three choices in how we emotionally react. We can complain about what we see wrong or negative in our situations. That makes us angry or depressed. We can react indifferently which makes us apathetic. Or we can rejoice, which makes us alive to God’s presence and his blessings. This makes us happy, and after all, God does love us and wants us to be happy.

Most of the day the rejoicing thing went great because all my situations were pleasant ones. That changed toward the end of my day.

After work I took my daughters, Sally and Kelly, to their piano class. While they learn tunes on the keyboard, I teach the piano teachers daughter English. It’s a barter deal where no money exchanges hands and everyone is happy. I rejoiced that my girls enjoy learning the piano and I could bless the music teacher and her daughter with English skills.

When we finished we went to a little piece of property that Anita’s dad had given us. We are in the process of building a tiny house and have planted a few fruit trees that needed to be watered. I rejoiced at the thought of these blessings as well.

What we encountered upon reaching the property was not a blessing. Some mischievous young truant, or so I guess, had crawled under our fence, had climbed to the top of a shed where we keep a water tank, and had broken off the water valve, unleashing a thousand liters of water. How could I rejoice now?

I felt violated that someone had come onto our property and distressed over the waste of our water by some random act of vandalism. While I stared in disbelief, my daughters kept asking me “Why?”. ” Why, Daddy, would someone do this? “

I told them that this is how a lot of people act in the “real” world. I explained to them that they live in a Christian community and go to a Christian school, and while Christians aren’t perfect, they normally try to live by the standard of love, and that is what they are used to. People in the world who are not Christians, many times just live by the moment and if it makes them happy to cause pain to others and destroy things, they just do it.

After saying these words I found cause to rejoice. I told the girls that we needed to pray. So we prayed and rejoiced at the work God had done in our lives and was continuing to do. We thanked God that nothing worse had happened and prayed for the person who had done this, that he might see the light and come to know the love of God and find his joy in Jesus and not in random acts of violence.

We got back in the car and drove home. Most of the anger and frustration had left me, replaced by the “peace that passes all understanding.” Some disappointment remained, but it helped me to think of Paul’s words to the Roman church, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). And in this I rejoiced.

 

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They attacked civilians, and killed babies and women. They searched every single house for YPG soldiers, and if they found anyone armed, they killed them or gave them to the Turkish government.” This quote is from the latest World Magazine about Turkish forces working with jihadists in Afrin, Syria. The story also reported that 200,000 mostly Kurdish residents were forced to flee the area, along with 3,000 Christians and 35,000 Yazidis. This earth is not where righteousness dwells.

Compassion International reports that globally in 2014, 1 billion children aged 2-17 experienced physical, sexual, emotional or multiple types of violence. A quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children. One in five women and one in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child. This earth is not where righteousness dwells.

In Bosnia, beginning in 1991, Yugoslavia began to break up along ethnic lines. When the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) declared independence in 1992 the region quickly became the central theater of fighting. The Serbs targeted Bosniak and Croatian civilians in areas under their control in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. The war in Bosnia claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people. This earth is not where righteousness dwells.

Over a decade ago the Government of Sudan carried out genocide against Darfuri civilians, murdering 300,000 & displacing over 2 million people. This earth is not where righteousness dwells.

Every month, 255 Christians are killed, 104 are abducted, 180 Christian women are raped, sexually assaulted or forced into marriage, 66 churches are attacked, 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned. This earth is not where righteousness dwells.

Yesterday I had an argument with my wife. I was helping her with her with her job as kitchen supervisor here at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was feeling resentful because I had my own work to do in the garden. I had a bad attitude. This earth is not where righteousness dwells.

Righteousness means doing the right thing. God is righteous. He always does the right thing. Humans are not righteous. We rarely do the right thing. More often than not, we do the wrong thing, whether it is having a bad attitude and arguing with our spouse or orchestrating the torture and death of millions of people. God loves us and wants us to be happy, and gave us His Word telling us what is the right thing to do to be happy. We largely ignore His Word and end up living in an unhappy world.  

In the second chapter of second Peter we can read about the wickedness and unrighteousness of the first century.  Peter tells his readers about false prophets, false teachers, destructive heresies, depraved conduct, greed, exploitation, arrogance and adultery.  About people who are  boastful and full of lustful desires.  Evil ones who scoff at God’s Word and blaspheme. What will happen to a world filled with people like this?

The third chapter of second Peter tells us about the day of the Lord. The day of judgment and condemnation.  We read that that day will come like a thief and that the heavens will disappear with a roar. The elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Peter tells us we should look forward to the day of God, and hope it comes soon! He writes, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements by heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:12-13

The old things will pass away, like doing the wrong things over and over and over again.

All things will be made new, like actually doing the right things, as in loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. As in loving our neighbor as ourselves. The new earth will be a place where righteousness dwells.

The issue of children being seperated from parents has been in the news a lot lately. At the Home For Needy Children, all the children here have been seperated from their parents.  Their parents have abandoned them.  Their parents are drug addicts or alcoholics.  Their parents are in prison.  Their parents have abused them.  For a few, their parents have died.  Those are the exceptions.  I am definitely looking forward to that day when homes for needy children like this one don’t exist.  When all parents love their children; provide for their children; take good care of their children.  Where all parents always do the right thing for their children.  Where righteousness dwells.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for that day.  But until that day comes, with God’s help, we can all try to do the right thing.  We can shine a little light in the darkness.  We can give of our time, talents and treasures to those around us that are hurting physcially, economically and emotionally.  We can love the least, the last and the lost.  We can bring some righteousness to a terribly unrighteous world.

Groups and individuals from the United States and Canada regularly make their way down to Oaxaca, Mexico to help out at the childrens home.  We have a group here right now from Trinity church in Cleveland, Ohio.  Some men, some women.  Some teens, some retired.  All have one goal.  To do the right thing.  To help children in need.  To help a ministry that is helping the poorest of the poor in Mexico.  According to God, that is Righteous.  We can’t make the whole world righteous, but by sharing the Good News of Jesus and His love, people become righteous, one soul at a time.

Three ladies from Trinity church in Cleveland, Ohio with three girls from the childrens home.

 

 

 

I know President Trump. I know my wife, Anita. I know them both, but in different ways. I know facts about President Trump. I know Anita personally and intimately.

Peter writes a lot about knowing and knowledge in his second letter, the first chapter.

Verse 2- Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Verse 3- His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Verse 5- For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;

Verse 8- For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, he will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

German, French, Spanish and Greek have at least two words for knowledge; for the different types of knowledge. English has one word, so sometimes we misunderstand what the Bible is trying to tell us when it talks about knowledge. In this information age in which we live, when we think of knowledge we generally think of facts. When my daughters ask me a question in which they want a fact, and I don’t know the answer, I tell them to ask Mr. Google. He knows all the facts. All the information.

Reading 2 Peter 1, and seeing the word knowledge used five time in the first 8 verses, I immediately thought of facts and information. I thought that the more facts and information I have about God the more grace and peace I will have. The more theology books I read, the more power I will have for godly living. That’s not what Peter is talking about here.

He is using the Greek word for personal, intimate knowledge of God. This kind of knowledge of God initially comes to someone when the Spirit opens the spiritual eyes of a person and that persons heart is flooded with the love of God. It continues to grow as one dives into God’s Word, spends time with God’s people and participates in God’s activities. This is heart knowledge as opposed to head knowledge.

Anita grew up in a small town called Mitla, in Mexico. She went to the local Catholic church as most people in her town did. She and her family had some head knowledge of God, but not heart knowledge. They knew facts about God and a lot of his rules, but not much of his love. They worked for local missionaries who were doing Bible translation, whose lives were full of joy, peace and contentment, something Anita’s family lacked mightily. The missionaries regularly shared with Anita and her mom about the great love of God – how he loved them and wanted them to be happy. Finally the eyes of their hearts were enlightened, and they entered into a personal relationship with God. Their head knowledge was transformed into heart knowledge. They began to enjoy a life of peace and happiness that they had never known.

In verses 2, 3, and 8 Peter is referring to this kind of knowledge. In verse 5, Peter uses a different Greek word for knowledge, that signifies head knowledge of facts and information. He tells his readers that they need to make every effort to add to their goodness, knowledge. It’s vitally important that followers of Jesus get head knowledge of the Bible; get facts and figures and information about the major themes and doctrines of the Bible. The different cultures the scriptures were written in and the languages and genres that make up God’s Word. When we prayerfully meditate on this head knowledge, it slowly but surely makes its way to our heart, transforms our desires and deepens our relationship with The God who loves us and wants us to be happy.

What comes to mind when you think about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of God?shalom They are connected. The Gospel is the Good News about the Kingdom of God. About the King. We constantly need to remember who is the King of the kingdom. I think the Good News about the Kingdom is that the King is also our Father! Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven … your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10). I think that news blew the Jews away. We read a lot about kings in the O.T. Some good, some bad. Some who strove to be righteous and others who were very evil. Some powerful, some weak. But none of them were portrayed as a loving Father. In Jesus sermon on the mount, which is all about the Kingdom and Gospel, he uses the word Father as a title for God more times than it is used as a title for God in the whole O.T. God as Father was almost a totally new idea for the Jews of that era. God as King – of course. God as Judge – they knew that God. God as Creator – Right on. But God as Father – What a concept!


Why are Gospel and Kingdom so important?  Why is knowing God as a loving, compassionate Father something we need to embrace. Because God wants us to be happy. Because God wants Shalom. I have been thinking and reading a lot about Shalom lately. That word is generally translated as peace. It is a Hebrew word that is used throughout the Old Testament and it means so much more than what we think of when we think of peace. It is the glad result of Kingdom and Gospel. Shalom is the goal of God for everyone. Shalom is happy wholeness. Shalom is harmony and prosperity.  Shalom is all encompassing. Shalom is living in peace and right relationship with God, ourselves, our family and community. Shalom is whole, right relationships between rich and poor, powerful and weak, black and white, Jew and Gentile.


Alas, we see far too little Shalom in the world today. Why? Because human beings in and of themselves do not have the power to live in and practice Shalom. Power is defined as the ability to do something. We have no a ability in ourselves to live in right relationship with God! And as for loving our neighbor – We despise our neighbor! I think this is why Jesus and Paul talk so much about the Power of God. There is no Shalom without that power. Shalom is the Good News that that power is available. When Jesus said the Kingdom is near, I think he was saying that Shalom is available to all who come to the loving, compassionate Father in an attitude of weakness and realization that without the Fathers power, we will live sad, miserable lives full of conflict and strife. Jesus is proclaiming Shalom and telling the people the Good News that God the Father is inviting people into the Kingdom of Shalom!

It is kind of like what we do here at the Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We take in poor children who are broken and by the power of God and our love, they are made whole.  Children come who are hurt and angry, confused and abused, betrayed and shamed.  Here they experience Shalom. They grow into complete, happy people, full of smiles and laughter.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It can be a long process.  But when the children hear about the love of God and experience the compassion of their Heavenly Father on a daily basis, and depend on His power for their wholeness, then they live in peace and contentment.  They live in Shalom.

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Today is Tifani’s birthday. She is my oldest daughter and I dedicate this post to her. In Romans chapter 12 we find five ways to be, five ways to treat one another and five Do Not’s. Considering and living out these 15 admonitions from Paul we can all experience happier birthdays, merrier Christmas’s and happier lives.

The Five Be’s

Be devoted to one another in love.

Be spiritually passionate, serving the Lord.

Be joyful in hope.

Be patient in affliction.

Be faithful in prayer.

Five Ways to Treat One Another

Share with one another.

Rejoice with one another.

Mourn with one another.

Live in harmony with one another.

Live in peace with one another.

Five Do Nots.

Do not be proud.

Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Do not take revenge.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

God loves us and wants us to be happy. He inspired Paul to write these words so that we would take them to heart, put them into practice and live in right relationship with God and our fellow human beings. I think of them as 15 gifts  around the birthday cake or presents under the Christmas tree. Each one to be carefully unwrapped, treasured and used daily.

I think people generally take bread for granted.  It’s a staple of many peoples diets.  It’s common.  It’s cheap.  It’s conveinent. I have taken it for granted for most of my life.  Growing up we had toast with breakfast, sandwich for lunch and a piece of bread with butter for dinner. Lots of bread – little thought about it.

I stopped taking it for granted a few years ago when I began taking the Lord’s Prayer seriously and started praying it everyday.  The Lord’s Prayer has big spiritual ideas like the holiness of God, the Kingdom, the will of God, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from the Evil One, power and glory.  And right smack in the middle of it is BREAD!

Give us today our daily bread (Matthew 6:11).  Imagine that.  Jesus wants us to ask the Father for bread everyday.  Not take it for granted.  Not assume that we will always have it.  Ask God today for our daily bread.  So what’s the big deal about bread?  I think God wants us to remember, to remind ourselves, everyday, that we depend on God for everything in our life, everyday.  From our  salvation and sanctification, to our daily bread and daily breath.  If God doesn’t give it, we don’t get it.

So the next time we spread jelly on our toast, or bite into a Big Mac, let’s take a moment to thank our gracious, generous heavenly Father for the bread.  God loves us and wants us to be happy, so He gave us bread!

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