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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

 

new-year-christian

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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compassion

A lot of things are easier in the United states than in Mexico. Take for example, trying to get someone with a tractortracor and a disk to come out and work a field. In the U.S., when you need any kind of work done, you open the Yellow Pages and you can probably find at least a dozen listings of people or businesses that can do what you need to have done. Here in Oaxaca Mexico, not so much.

 

For the past month I have been looking for someone with a tractor to come out and disk a little field we have. Here you either have to know somebody who knows somebody that can do the job, or you need to get in a vehicle and drive around searching and asking. The first time I went out with my wife, Anita, looking in fields for a tractor working. If we would have saw someone, I would have parked the car and walked over to the tractor driver and asked him if he could come to the children’s home and do some work. We didn’t see anyone working in a field, but we did see a tractor at a gas station filling up with diesel. I pulled up beside him and asked him if he had time to come to our place and do some work. He said he was really busy and couldn’t come out. I asked him if he knew anyone that could come out. He said maybe the guy behind us could do the job. I looked behind me and to my surprise, another tractor had pulled up to get some fuel. With Anitas help, I asked this guy, if he could do some work for us. He said he was busy today, but tomorrow he could come out, but I would have to go to his house in the evening, bring him to the mission, explain to him what I needed done, then he could give me a quote on how much it would cost, and then he would come out the next day with his tractor.

 

I thought, “WHAT a hassle!” But I was desperate, so I agreed. Anita and I ran an errand and then returned to the mission. As we were turning off the main road, we saw this same tractor guy heading our way so we stopped and waited for him. He told us his big job for the day fell through and that he could work our field. I thought,”Praise the Lord!” I had asked God earlier in the day to help us find a tractor guy to come work today, and here he was. He plowed the field and then came back and disked the field. I was ready to plant grass seeds for a new section of our soccer field – except for one thing, part of the field was muddy, and the tractor left deep ruts and this would have to be fixed. The tractor guy said he would come back and fix that part of the field in a few days. I never saw him again. Typical of Mexico.

 

While I was waiting for him we had three weeks of rain. Now the whole field would have to be disked again. The search for a tractor driver began again. To my delight, a tractor guy began disking the field next to the mission. I walked over to him and asked him if he could spend and hour or so in our field. He said he didn’t have time.  Bummer.  A few days later the same guy was working in a field on the other side of the mission. Once again I approached him to see if he might have some free time to help us out. This time he said he might be able to come out Monday or Tuesday. I looked for him on Monday and Tuesday but he never showed. Double bummer.

 

The home for needy children is building an elementary school and has a full time worker engaged in the project. His name is Absalom and he lives close to the mission. I asked him if he knew anyone with a tractor who could come and work our little field. He told me he had a friend in the nearby town of Tanivet  who might be the man for the job. Absalom told me where he lived and I went there in search of him. I found his place, but he was not there. Probably out with his tractor. Walking back to the mission van, I heard a tractor working nearby. I drove over to this guy and questioned him as to whether or not he could come to the children’s home and work for an hour or so. He told me he could probably come out between twelve and one. I was excited and waited in earnest for him the rest of the day, but him and his tractor were non existent to the mission.

 

I went back to Absalom’s friend the next day with Anita. Again he was not there, but we talked to the guys wife or mother, I’m not sure which. She said it would be best if Absalom called him and talked to him. This was last Friday. Absalom never takes a day off, but he took this day off. We went to his house, but his wife informed us that he was in the Sierras for the weekend, and she didn’t have the tractor guys phone number, but her next door neighbor, Guillermina, might have his number. As it happens, Guillermina and Anita are friends and used to work together at the mission cooking meals. We made our way to her house. She was glad to see Anita and went in search of the tractor guys phone number. She discovered his son’s number, but not his number. She tried the number twice but got no response. On Monday I asked Absalom to call his tractor friend. He tried a couple times but the guy didn’t answer.

 

I talked to Absalom before lunch and he finally reached his friend, who said he would come out at two o’clock and look at our parcel of land and give us a quote. Two o’clock came and then two-thirty and still no tractor guy. Anita and I had to leave and I asked Absalom to show his no-show friend what needed to be done, if he ever showed up, that is. I received a call from our mission administrator about 5 pm who informed me that the tractor guy showed up with his tractor and did the job. I couldn’t hardly believe it.  At long last the field was almost ready to be planted. It seemed almost a miracle to me, and I gave thanks immediately to God that the job was done, and later to Absalom for helping us out.

 

So what is the point of this tractor tale? What does all this have to do with believing that God loves us and wants us to be happy? During this tractor search period I looked frequently at the field that was fast filling up with weeds and I would thank God that we hadn’t been able to find a tractor guy to come and till the field. That was my only option if I really believe that God loves me and wants me to be happy. I believe that God knows better than me, that His ways are not my ways, and that His timing is better than mine.

 

So the project, any project really, is more in His hands than mine. He allows me to cooperate with Him, but I have to trust Him, that He will do His part when the time is right, not when I think the time is right, then I can do my part. Sometimes God lets us in on the reason behind the wait, but more often than not, His perfect timing remains a mystery, and all we do is to glorify Him and enjoy Him, and know that all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called by Him. So what should we do when we are in a tight spot, and all our efforts seem in vain when we try to move ahead? We should say, “Thanks God! You make all things beautiful in Your Time, and in Your Perfect Way. I will do my best, pray that it’s blessed, and trust You to do the rest.”

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trusting God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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kindness mother teresa

There was a big crowd gathered around Joshua, waiting anxiously.  They had been waiting for this moment for a long, long, time.  The lots were cast, and the tribe of Judah was first.  Shouts went up from those tribe members, and then Joshua and the high priest, Eleazar, told them what their territory would be.  The land you will call home will extend down south to Edom, to the desert of Zin, to the bay of the Dead sea.  Your southern boundary will start from the bay at the southern end of the Dead Sea, cross south of Scorpion Pass, past Hezron and curve around to Karka, ending at the Mediterranean Sea.  The northern boundary will start at the mouth of the Jordan where it enters the Dead Sea, go up to Beth Hoglah and then to Beth Arabah ….  When the boundary lines were finished being given, the people of Judah were well pleased, especially Caleb, who was singled out to receive the town and hill country of Hebron.

Caleb remembered back to the first time he had ventured into that territory, as a spy, over forty years ago.  He

Caleb and Joshua with grapes from the promised land

Caleb and Joshua with grapes from the promised land

thought about the vineyard covered hills that produced incredibly huge clusters of the sweetest grapes that he had ever tasted.  He remembered the olive groves with branches bowing almost to the ground, heavy laden with large, ripe olives.  He thought of the lush, green pastures full of fat sheep and goats.  Those same pastures would surely  fatten up his large flocks with plenty of space left over for his children’s livestock and their children’s animals as well.  It was a dream come true.  Caleb would finally be happy in Hebron.

Caleb was 85 years old.  Joshua was about the same age.  They were the only two people of their generation that escaped the slavery and oppression of Pharaoh in Egypt and crossed the Jordan river into the Promised Land.  God had heard the cries of the Hebrews who were suffering in that land along the Nile, had compassion on them and chose Moses to be his instrument of delivering the chosen people from bondage.  At first the people rejoiced when they heard the message that God loved them and wanted them to be happy and was going to deliver them from the harsh Egyptian taskmasters.    But then they complained, because things got worse before they got better.

Caleb and Joshua were puzzled by the sad state of affairs and wondered how the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would save them.  They were suffering under the slave drivers and also felt the ill effects of some of the plagues that God was sending on the Egyptians.  They suffered and wondered what was going on.  They also must have thought of the stories of Joseph, who also suffered unjustly at the hand of Egyptians almost 400 years earlier.  They took comfort in the fact that God was with him, and ultimately exalted him to enjoy freedom, privilege and power, second only to the great Pharaoh himself.

Our day will come, they thought, if we believe and don’t give up hope.

They continued to believe. Hope ran strong in their hearts. The day came when they found themselves spreading lambs blood on their door posts.  Later that night the killing angel paid every family in the land a visit.  Those homes covered by the blood were spared death.  Those without suffered the death of their firstborn sons.  Egyptian families wailed in grief, begging the Hebrews to leave, and loaded them down with silver, gold and jewelry.  The first fruits of anticipated good things that were to come.

Pharaoh, too, had experienced loss, and knew when he was licked.  Finally, he let God’s people go.

The chosen people of God left at once, heading toward their new home.  Caleb rejoiced, but within two short years his joy was replaced by great disappointment.  Even though the Israelites had experienced a miraculous delivery from slavery by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of their loving God, they quickly turned their backs on Him by worshiping a golden calf, complaining about God’s plan, and then disbelieving that God would go before them and give them  a land flowing with milk and honey.

After spying out the Canaanite country of promise, Caleb and Joshua were fired up and excited to march in behind the great I AM and posses the fruitful land.  A land not just promised to Moses but also to the patriarch Abraham centuries before.  God had told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the beach.  And now was the time for the stars to shine and take the land.  But they failed to believe that God loved them and wanted them to be happy.  They chose to focus on “the giants in the land” rather then their Giant God.

God was furious with them and condemned them to wander in the wilderness until they were dead and there was a new generation that would trust him.  Caleb and Joshua were fiercely  disappointed, but were promised that one day they would take up residence in the territory beyond the Jordan.   Caleb remembered the words spoken to him by Moses, “The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.”

A new day finally dawned forty years later.  Forty years of waiting, of watching parents and siblings die in the desert.  Forty years of watching the people rebel and complain and succumb to the punishment of God.  The day finally came when a new set of spies were sent across the Jordan.  These spies came back with a report that the heathen people’s hearts were melting in fear of what would happen to them when the Mighty YHWH would lead His people in battle against them.  The day came when the “giants” of Canaan were routed by the Hebrews Giant God  and their land was free for the taking by the people of Israel.  The beautiful day came at last, when Caleb received his promised piece of the Promised Land and was happy in Hebron.

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Just as Noah had to tolerate the minority opinion of his day, so did Caleb and Joshua.  The respective faith of each in the integrity of the promise of God gives Noah victory over sarcasm and Caleb and Joshua victory over hostility.  The taunters and the incredulous, on the other hand, are denied the ark and the land.     Victor P. Hamilton in Handbook on the Pentateuch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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