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The book of Proverbs, in the Bible, is all about getting wisdom and wisdomknowledge.The good life, the happy life, consists of growing in wisdom and knowledge and reaping the benefits of those traits. Proverbs compares and contrasts those who seek wisdom and knowledge and those who reject wisdom and knowledge. The Wise and the Fools.

Chapters 1-9 consist of teaching about the importance of wisdom and knowledge and how to get them. In my pattern of Bible reading, I read a chapter of Proverbs every Saturday morning. Yesterday I read about the Wicked Men and Wayward Women.

Verses 12-15 say, “Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.”

Verses 16-19 follow with these words, “Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth, and ignored the the covenant she made before God. Surely her house leads down to death, and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.”

Verse 22 summarizes what happens to wicked men and wayward women, “the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.”

I see the results of wicked men and wayward women everyday here at the Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico. Wicked men and wayward women don’t care much for their children. They are abused, neglected and often abandoned, and many end up in special homes for children. Verse 14 mentions that the wicked men delight in doing wrong. Almost all of the children here at the mission have no contact with their fathers. Their fathers delight in making children, and disappear sometime after conception or birth when they discover that raising children is not so delightful.

Everyone wants delight. Everyone wants pleasure. Everyone wants joy. Everyone wants to rejoice. Everyone seeks these things. The book of Proverbs is all about these things. The wise find their joy and delight in God and following Him and His ways. The wise find pleasure in helping the poor and oppressed. They are generous to the downcast and fatherless; with the widow and orphan. The wicked – not so much.

We make choices everyday about what we are going to do to make us happy, to fill us with delight. Many think making money will make them happy. Money in the bank for security and money in the wallet to spend. Others, like the wayward woman, think ultimate pleasure is found in using their bodies in ways contrary to God’s Word and His ways. Sure, there is some measure of happiness and pleasure to be found in these things, but it is a fleeting happiness, and short lived pleasure. Usually the pleasures that the wicked men and wayward women encounter not only don’t last very long, but are ultimately harmful, painful and cause suffering for them and those around them.

Some of my favorite people in the world are those who come to this ministry in Southern Mexico to help for awhile. Some come with church groups for a week or so. Others come with family members and stay for a little bit longer periods of time. Some come by themselves and stay for months. All of these people have a joy that will never fade away, because, by giving of themselves and their time, talents and treasure to help the “least of these”; the poorest of the poor in this country, they are filled with a joy that will never fade away. Many of the visitors and volunteers that come to help the children say before they leave that they came to be a blessing to others and discovered that they had been blessed beyond belief by their time here helping others.

Psalm one presents us with two paths that we can choose to go down. The first is the path of the wicked which leads to destruction. The second is the path of the LORD, which leads to lasting delight and prosperity. God, help us to choose Your path and to meditate on your word, which you gave to us because you love us and want us to be happy.

wisdom2

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eternal-pleasures

Enjoying those eternal pleasures!!!

A few days ago in our morning devotions at the home for needy children where my wife and I serve, a lady named Mireya talked about the recent death of her mother.  Her mother had been battling diabetes for many years.  Not a pleasant struggle to have to endure.  And then, to make matters worse, she was involved in a terrible auto accident that broke bones, inflicted bruises; internal and external, and left her in a coma for some days.  She finally came out of the coma, which was a great relief for her family, but never really recovered, and ended up dying a couple weeks ago.car crash

Mireya talked of her mother’s walk with God and the tremendous impact her faith had on her family, friends, and even the hospital staff who cried at her passing.

At about the same time of Mireya’s mother’s accident, another tragic auto collision occurred.  This time to a lady named Leticia who had faithfully served at the mission in previous years with her husband Edgar.  She was hit by a big truck driven by a drunk man.  In the car with her were her two daughters, son, and sister in law.  They all suffered a variety of bone fractures, contusions and bruises.  The worst off was the sister in law who had both of her legs broken.

My wife, Anita, and I, went to visit Leticia recently, and she recounted for us the injuries and physical pain they all went through.  Almost as bad as the physical pain, was, and is, is the psychological ordeal they are going through.  The drunk man who crashed into Leticia was questioned by police and released.  The police never filed a report and there is no evidence that they were ever on the scene.  Leticia’s son took a picture of the drunk man and his license plate, which allowed them to find out where he lived.  Evidently this man is a man of some means, as it seems he paid the police off and has hired a number of lawyers to defend him in case any one tries to make him pay.  Edgar went to find the man in order to talk to him about the situation.  He was no where to be found, and so Edgar talked to a few neighbors, telling them what happened and why he wanted to speak with the guy.  He gave them his cell phone number.  That evening he received a call from a relative of the drunk driver who cursed Edgar out.

What is the import of these two stories?  I always say that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  These are not very happy stories.  The members of these families are strong, faithful Christians involved in ministry.  It would be natural to ask God the question “Why”?  In fact, Mireya confessed to asking that question.  God answered her question.  It’s not important to know what the answer was.  It is important to know that our God who loves us and wants us to happy, always answers that question.  Sometimes he gives the answer in a still small voice that brings us great satisfaction.  Sometimes he answers that question through circumstances that follow, or with wise council from trusted friends or family members.  Sometimes he answers with the response that Jesus gave John the Baptist or to Peter, which was, “What I do now you cannot understand, but in time you will.”

The New Testament writers James and Peter wrote about going through times of suffering, and both of them said that we should rejoice and be filled with joy because God uses the hard times of pain and confusion to bring about spiritual growth and greater intimacy with the Father.

 Consider it  pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  James 1:2,3

           For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.   1Peter1:6,7

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk wrote about difficult times ahead for the chosen people of God.  Times of distress and want; hunger and pain. This prophet also declared “though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakuk 3:17,18).”

So whether we suffer a car crash, emotional or physical crash, financial or familial crash, we can be sure that while we go through the pain, God is with us to strengthen us and encourage us, and when we come out the other end, we can rejoice and consider it pure joy that our faith is real and God is glorified.

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suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are some quotes from Community 101:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William T. Ham

I have been stuck In 2 Peter chapter one for a couple of weeks now.  It is a rich chapter and also a bit difficult to understand in certain places.  I don’t like to leave a chapter until I have sucked all the meat out of it that I think is possible .  Thus I am still I this chapter.  It’s amazing how you can spend so much time in one portion of scripture, reading it and rereading it, and about the time you think you are ready to leave it, something jumps out and surprises you. That happened a couple of days ago.  I was surprised by divine nature.  Peter tells hos readers that God has promised we are participants in God’s nature.  I had read that verse a dozen times and never thought much about it.  This time it stunned me to think that God wants me to participate in his divine nature.  To be his servant , sure , that’s obvious.  To obey his commands, of course.  To be a part of his kingdom and to work for it, I think all Christians understand that.  But to participate in his divine nature?  That is definitely out of this world.  I can much more readily identify with Paul when he says that he is the worst sinner (I thought I was);  I know where the guy is coming from who said “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”;  it is easier for me to understand King David and his foibles  then to imagine God wants me to participate in his divine nature.

So what on earth could Peter possibly mean about participating in God’s divine nature?  Peter says in the previous verse that God has promised us this.  I have been reading the bible for at least 45 years, and I couldn’t recall any promises to this effect.  I was mentally seeking out these promises and was drawing blanks.  One promise I do remember is that those who seek will find.

The next morning, during the regular devotion time we have at the home for needy children where I participate here in Oaxaca,Mexico, the person that was speaking had us look at the gospel of John, chapter 14.  There they were, a whole bunch of promises from the very lips of Jesus.  He promised his followers that the father would dwell in them, Jesus himself would be in them, and if that wasn’t enough, they would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The whole trinity is in me! How’s that for participating in the divine nature?

John 14 promises – I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever…

                                        I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

                                         If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Also John 15 – If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.

                               If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

So there it is – God has decided that us frail, mortal, weak, humans can participate in His Divine Nature.  God certainly loves us and wants us to be happy!  Enjoy God and His Divine Nature, today and everyday!

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Jesus was now in charge; he was already, now, calling the nations to account.  And he was going to do so through his followers, those to whom he had given his Spirit.  This, whether we like it or not, is where we come in.”  N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

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Next blog – Released From Prison

 

Life with Mikey

Life with Mikey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My ten year old daughter Tifani had broken the rules and needed to be punished.  I don’t remember what offense she had committed.  I just remember looking at her, shaking my head, letting her know that she had disappointed me by breaking the rules and that she was going to be punished.  She looked up at me with big, sad eyes and said, “I’m bad.  I know it.  Daddy,  I need help.”

When I heard her utter those words I burst out laughing, all my anger gone, knowing that my budding little actress had obviously picked up this line from some movie she had watched.  All thoughts of punishment had disappeared and I asked her where she had heard those words, “I’m bad.  I know it.  I need help.”

She had recently watched a movie called LIFE WITH MIKEY, and in this movie, a young girl about Tifani’s age was a pickpocket on the streets of New York.  She gets caught and an angry man accuses her of stealing his wallet.  A small crowd gathers around her.  Michael Chapman (Michael J. Fox) shows up.  He had just had his wallet stolen by this same girl.  He is the head of a child talent agency, and is always looking for new talent.  He sees the way that this girls is playing the crowd, and realizes that she is a natural.  He intervenes, telling everyone that she is his daughter.   Crocodile tears pour down her pretty little face and she exclaims, “I’m bad.  I know it.  Daddy, I need help.”

She made the confession, “I’m bad.  I know it.  I need help”, not out of any realization of her true nature, but in the hope that people would feel sorry for her, give her a break and let her go.

Her words, though, have great significance for those who want to enjoy God.  The life of enjoying God begins with the startling revelation that we are all bad.  That we really and truly Know that we are bad and that without help, we are doomed.

This thought, for many, is the hardest part of enjoying God.  In fact, it seems ridiculous!  When confronted with the possibility that we might be bad, we immediately present our first list of all the good things we do.  We give to charitable organizations and donate time to worthy causes and don’t beat our wives or children and work hard at the office and never cheat or steal.

Our second list is made up of truly bad people like murderers, rapists, thieves and those who cheat on their spouses and take advantage of the poor.  We can always point to those who are really bad and thus exonerate ourselves.

Everyone has their own categories of who is bad and what is bad and we certainly don’t fall into any  of those categories.  But, the category that matters most, is God’s category.  Since He is the one we want to enjoy, and it is He that gives the joy, it is His standard of Good and Bad that we need to take a look at.

In the Bible God reveals His character and ours.  He shows us His standard of goodness and also how far removed we are from that standard.  The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms that because we do not live up to His standard of Goodness that we are His enemies (Rom. 5:10). Indeed, we are dead in our badness.  Dead in our sins as Paul puts it Ephesians 2.  Sin is just another word for bad, a type of bad that utterly offends  a perfect God, and totally blocks our any chance of enjoying God.  In Romans 3:12, Paul quotes Ecclesiastes 7:20 saying, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”  Even the good deeds we do, the random acts of kindness we perform, the rewards we receive for helping others, are all a stench in the nostrils of God, if done apart from being in right relationship with him.

Help Is Available

This is where the Good News comes in.  We can’t enjoy the God the Good News if we don’t first understand the bad news.  The bad news is that we are bad.  The Good News is that help is available!

The last phrase the girl pickpocket declared when confronted by the angry victim was, “I need help.”  She was insincere in her claim of needing help.  If we truly believe from the bottom of our hearts, that we re bad and desperately need help, God is more than willing to come to our aid and rescue us.

I lived in Sonoma County, California, for a number of years.  There were a few years that we experienced terrible flooding.  I lived close to the RussianRiver and during a particularly bad flood many of the residents were surrounded by high water and had to be helicoptered to safety.  Those residents recognized they were in a bad way and were glad to be helped.

I remember one especially dramatic photograph that appeared in the local paper.  A man was being rescued from the raging river by a fireman who was in the river with him.  The fireman was roped to other firemen standing on the bank.  The drowning man was rescued and the photographer went on to win a Pulitzer prize for the photo.

When we come to a point where we realize that we are drowning spiritually, when we realize that joy, peace and contentment are not the hallmarks of our lives, and that the turbulent waters of depression, disappointment, frustration, anger and disillusion threaten to overwhelm us, and we call out to a merciful, compassionate and gracious God (Daddy), He will rescue us!

In a way, God is like the fireman who jumped into the river to save the drowning man.  God jumped into our hopeless, helpless situation, into our badness, in the person of Jesus Christ.  And all those who became aware of their badness, and followed this God/Man Jesus were rescued, and are still being rescued and given new lives.  Lives filled with joy in God and delight at being delivered from the turbulent flood called existence, and brought onto the safe shore called Life.  Life enjoying God.

Some, like many of the religious leaders of Jesus day, didn’t realize how dire their plight was, and chose to cling to the slippery and perilous branches called self-righteousness and good works. They perished without ever experiencing the joy of knowing God.

Bad Gunky

Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of doing bad things.  While we celebrate and rejoice that our Bad Existence was put to death by Jesus, we still struggle with doing bad things.  Martin Luther said we are at the same time righteous and sinners and that we continue to wrestle daily with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  I call these things Bad Gunky.  In Stephen King’s novel LISEYS STORY, one of the main characters explains to his wife, Lisey, all about bad gunky.  As a child he lived with his father and older brother.  At various times they were attacked by what his father called “bad gunky”.  This was an evil presence that would, without warning, fill either the father or one of his sons with a violent anger that would cause them to want to kill.  The only cure that normally worked to rid the family member of bad gunky, was the shedding of blood. One of the family members that was not being attacked by the bad gunky would have to inflict a large, deep cut on his own body, to set the other family member free of the evil known  as bad gunky.

This is a wonderful picture of what our Brother, Jesus, did for us, giving himself up freely to be crucified, to let his blood pour down the cross, so that we could be free from bad gunky, the power of sin, of badness, that caused our spiritual death.  Bad Gunky, with a capital B and a capital G is no longer a threat to our eternal relationship with God, to our eternal life.  However, bad gunky, small b, small g, still nips at our heels and barks in our ears on a daily basis.  This bad gunky tempts us to do bad things.  Tempts us to leave the Lord we love.  We fall victim daily to bad gunky.  Jesus tells us we are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. He tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We fail at this everyday.  In fact it is an impossible task.  So what sets followers of Christ apart from the rest of humanity that fails everyday?  It is the fact that as followers of Christ we have as our life goal to love God with all our being, and to love our  neighbor as we love ourselves.  We know this is the surest way to a life full of joy with God and with each other.  We begin the day in prayer, asking God’s Spirit to come along side us to help us love as He wants us to love.  And, if we are to be honest, end the day in prayer, noticing the ways we have failed to love, and confess to God that we have not loved Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.  That we have not loved our neighbor as our self.  And we rest assured, knowing that God is faithful to forgive us our sins, our bad actions, our lack of love.  We sleep peacefully, knowing that our merciful, compassionate, patient God has washed away the bad gunky of the day.  We look forward to the morning when God’s mercies are new and we can experience afresh the joy of God.

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The great power of God appears in bringing a sinner from his low state, from the depths of sin and misery, to an exalted state of holiness and happiness.  Jonathan Edwards  (1703-1758) from his sermon God Glorified in Man’s Dependence

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Next blog – God Didn’t Have To, But He Did

A long time ago,  in  a  land far  away, lived a king, a big king, a big king named King Og.  King Og reigned in Bashan, a land fair and bright; a land full of prospects, but not really all right.  King Og was sure prideful and full of himself; calling  his kingdom, the Kingdom of Og.  He was a giant, so some people say. In a bed 13 feet long, 13 feet long did he lay.  He thought he was great, was sure he was strong; of greater and greater conquests he longed.

One day a messenger came into his kingdom; carried he a message; some people wanted to come.  ‘Twas a message from Moses that was read by the King.  The message requested permission to pass, to pass  through the Kingdom of Og really fast.  “We don’t want to fight,  we don’t want to meddle, we’re on our way, the Promised  Land to settle.”

King Og read the note with a snort and a smirk, “What’s Moses think?  I’m some kind of jerk?”  He rallied his forces, he rallied his men, he gathered his army and it was to war that he went.

Now God was with Moses, He led him along.  For forty long years did God lead him along.   Led him through desert,  led him through plain, with great strength, to the Promised Land they came.  Meeting the vast army of prideful King Og, God comforted Moses, saying we’ll chase him home like a dog.

The Hebrews rose up and went out to King Og.  With God by their side they did  battle and slay.  They fought and they routed old king Og that  day.  They smote all  his soldiers and took all their loot.  They took all their land and houses to boot. Fleeing in terror, the Ogites did run.  Close on their heals, with hearts full of joy, the Israelite soldiers chased them into the sun. God loved his dear people and helped them to win.  He fought right beside them again  and  again.  They won  a great victory, and happy were they.   They won  a big battle and rejoiced big that day.

So what is the point of this short moral tale?  When your walking with God, you’re going to sail.   And what can you learn while you’re reading this blog?  When you see God is coming, don’t be like  King  Og.

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I was reading Deuteronomy, chapter three the other day, in the old King James version.  I read the story of the demise of King Og.  The story stuck in my mind all day and I was working with it to make a kind of Dr. Seuss type story.  It’s not that great, but was kinda fun to write.  I must admit, I took some “artistic license” liberties, but in general it is fairly accurate to the real account.  The Bible says he was a “giant” about 13 feet tall.  The bigger they are, the harder they fall.  King Og is also mentioned in Numbers and Psalms, among other places.  God is always telling his people “to remember” or “do not forget”.  Remember what?  Don’t forget what?  That God loves his chosen people and wants them to be happy, triumphant, and obedient.  That He will be beside us, over us, behind us, in front of us, and, if need be, carry us, when we face the enemy.  Our enemies are the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, according to Martin Luther, and we do battle with them every day.   Depending on God for our strength assures us of the victory.  Whether that victory is sooner or later, only God knows (and He ain’t tellin’), but the important thing is that He is with us in the battle.

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As you go on your way, may God go with you.
May God go before you to show you the way.
May God go behind you to encourage you,
beside you to befriend you,
above you to watch over you,
and within you to give you peace,

In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

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Next blog – Finding Happiness in the Mess

English: Lord's Prayer A tablet behind the alt...

English: Lord’s Prayer A tablet behind the altar in St Mary the Virgin showing the Lord’s Prayer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord’s prayer is a happy prayer.  When I pray it and meditate on it I am filled with joy because it is filled with good things. God wants us to ask him for good things. Most of the Lord’s prayer is about asking God for stuff.  There was a time in my life where I stopped asking God for stuff.  I stopped praying for people.  I figured that God is sovereign and all powerful and all knowing  and full of love a and that he would handle all situations and circumstances perfectly.  I thought it ridiculous to think that God was up there on his celestial throne waiting for me to send up a prayer before he would act.  “You know, I was planning on healing George of his cancer, but Santiago never prayed for him, so poor old George died.”  I didn’t think God needed my prayer before he did the right thing.

And I was right.  He doesn’t need my prayer.  I need my prayer.  I finally realized that by taking a good look at the Lord’s prayer. Most of the Lord’s prayer is petition.  Not adoration or thanksgiving, but petitions, requests.  I need to ask God for stuff, for things, for help, to remind myself daily that I am totally dependent on God for everything!  For all my physical needs and spiritual needs.  In the Lord’s prayer I am reminded over and over that God is good and loving and wants me to be happy.

The Lord’s prayer starts off with “Our Father” and a bit later “thy kingdom come”.  The first piece of happiness we find is that our Father is the king.  As a youth I went to Bible camp every year in the mountains of Colorado.  One year the guest speaker was from Tennessee.  He had never seen the Rocky mountains.  One day, on a hike he stopped and exclaimed, “My daddy made those mountains!”  Sometimes I want to stop and exclaim with joy, “My daddy is the king!”  The Lord’s prayer is part of the sermon on the mount where Jesus has been mentioning the kingdom.  He began His ministry proclaiming the kingdom of the heavens or the kingdom of God.  In the Lord’s prayer we happily discover that our daddy is the king.

In context of  “thy kingdom come”  Jesus gives us the first thing that we should ask for.  The most important happy thing that we should ask for.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  When you think of heaven, do you think of sadness, misery, and pain?  Of course not.  We all think of a joyous existence where we delight in the presence of God and his will being done perfectly.  God’s plan from the garden of Eden in Genesis to New Jerusalem in Revelation, is for people to experience unbelievable happiness because they are are doing his will.  In this petition God not only invites us to enter into his joy, but as individuals and as the body of Christ, to bring this joy to a hurting world and thus grow the kingdom of the heavens.

As Jesus further instructs about things to ask for, he seemingly moves from the most important thing to the most mundane.  “Give us today our daily bread.”  I would 4126611734_993d897939venture to guess that most of us rarely if ever ask God to supply our bread for the day.  One reason we don’t ask for that is because in our innermost being we think we are self sufficient.  We think we can handle that one on our own.  The reality is that we can’t.  I was reading Moses’ speech to the Israelites this morning in Deuteronomy chapter eight.  Moses told the people that it is God who gives you the ability to produce wealth.  Who gave you the ability to earn that paycheck that enabled you to buy your bread  (which is symbolic of our daily needs)?  Where did you get the physical and mental ability to work, make money and buy food?  God gave it you and me and all of us.  So when we pray for daily bread, we are praying for God to maintain and grow our physical and mental abilities.

Here at the home for needy children in Mexico, that petition takes on a different flavor.  We depend on the generous gifts of faithful supporters and friends for our daily bread, or daily tortillas, as the case may be.  While we always give thanks before each meal, we rarely ask God corporately  to supply our food.  It is a different story in the accounting office.  Those who look at our daily financial records,  daily ask God to supply our needs.  God answered those prayers in a special way a couple of weeks ago.  We went to a store where we regularly buy food, and they donated a lot of  juice and crackers to us.  After that we went to the fruit and vegetable market and a complete stranger saw our van saying that we were from Christ For The World, Home For Needy Children.  He came over and gave us four boxes of fruit.  The next day a big truck from a governmental social service agency showed up unexpectedly and unloaded the largest food donation we have ever received.  Huge bags of rice, beans and lentils. Cases and cases of milk and tuna. Our pantry, which had looked like old, Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, was now stocked with enough food to last us six months.  Everyone rejoiced and was glad for God’s incredible provision.  Indeed, everyone who has food to eat and water to drink should happily rejoice in God’s faithful and miraculous provisions.

Now Jesus moves from our most basic physical needs, to our most basic spiritual need.  Forgiveness of sin.  “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those that sin against us.”  The angel told Joseph to name Mary’s baby “Jesus” because he would save his people from their sins.  Peter told Cornelius in Acts 10 that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.   Paul told the Romans in chapter four that Jesus was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to  life for our justification.  In Galatians one, Paul told his readers that Jesus gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.  The author of Hebrews says that Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.  John proclaims to his  audience that Jesus appeared so that he might take away our sins (1 John 3:5).  The one teaching on the mountain about forgiveness, was the one who died on a cross so that such forgiveness of sin could be possible.

So what’s the big  deal with  sin?  Nothing much, except that it causes a lot of pain, suffering, separation from a right relationship with God, turmoil in relationships with others, anxiety, guilt, depression and dysfunction, just to name a few things.  We are saved from all that when we do two things.  One ask God to forgive us of our sins, and two, we need to forgive others who  sin  against us – people who have hurt us, physically, mentally or emotionally.  1 John 1:9, and Jesus’ parable of  the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21, shed a lot of light on the concept and reality of forgiveness.  With our sins forgiven, our relationship with the Giver of Joy is made whole, and our souls are filled with a whole lot of happiness.

The final two things Jesus tells us to  ask for, is that God, our Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  When I think of God  leading  us into temptation, I  am reminded of the movie DodgeBall, where Dwight Goodman, the muscle bound owner of GloboGym, was waving a chocolate donut in front of his face, saying to himself, “Go ahead.  Eat it.  You know you want it.”  He goes to take a bite of the donut, and about the time the  chocolate delight touches his lips, he presses a button that sends an electric jolt into his body.  God is not in heaven, dangling an enticing temptation before us, waiting for us to succumb, and then gleefully sending a lightning bolt our way as punishment.  It is more accurate for us to pray that God would save us from the time of trial, because in times of trial we are tempted to sin by getting angry, or frustrated or worried or worse.  Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy that “this request is not just for evasion of pain and of things we don’t like, though it frankly is that.  It expresses the understanding that we can’t stand up under very much pressure, and that it is not a  good thing for us to suffer.  It is a vote of ‘no confidence’ in our own abilities.  As the (Lord’s Prayer) begins with with the glorification of God, it ends with acknowledgement of the feebleness of human beings.”  I will be the first to admit I am feeble and I will be the first to thank God and rejoice and be happy that He regularly saves me from the time of trial.

“Deliver us from the Evil One.”  The Evil One is Satan.  The Bible says Satan is like adevil roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Scriptures say that the Devil comes around with one purpose in mind – to kill, steal and destroy.  Basically, he doesn’t like  Christians very much.  To him, the only good Christian is a dead, dying or suffering Christian.  Happy Christians really tick him off.  Jesus knows this, so he tells us to pray for protection from the Evil One;  to recognize the reality of Satan and his hate for us; to recognize our weakness, that we are like dust compared to the Devil; and to recognize that the Devil is dust, compared to God.  When we pray to God to deliver us from the Evil One, we are acknowledging that “greater is He that is in us, then  he that is  in the world (1 John 4:4).  That, for me, is a happy thought!  Amen!

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” ‘Just the way we want it’ is not a bad paraphrase for ‘amen.’  What is needed at the end of this great prayer (Lord’s Prayer) is a ringing affirmation of the goodness of God and God’s world.  If your nerves can take it, you might (occasionally?) try “Whoopee!”  I imagine God himself will not mind.”  Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy.  This book has helped me more with having a happy, healthy prayer life than any other I have ever read.

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Next blog – Joy and Terror in the Kingdom of Og

Elaine

Elaine and her husband Ian are long time volunteers from Canada, here at the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  The other day I  asked Elaine if  she believed God loves her and wants her to be happy.  She said, “Absolutely!”  Then I asked her why she thought God allowed her to lose her hearing.

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Happy Children Playing
Artwork by Elaine

She had had perfect hearing most of her life.  About 28 years ago she gradually began to lose her hearing do to menieres disease, losing her hearing first in one hear, and then in the other until she was  totally deaf.  She thought about my question.  She told me that she never thought a lot about why God allowed her to lose her hearing.  She told me about difficulties she experienced as her hearing became impaired.  With tears in her eyes she recounted a recurring nightmare she had  regarding her hearing  loss and her increasing need to  depend on devices used to help the hearing impaired.  A few more tears appeared as she told me about how much she loved music, and that she can’t go into a music store now.

Thinking more about my question, she mentioned that with her hearing loss she has learned to depend more  on God.  She rests more in God.  Sometimes God takes things away from us, things that we enjoy, to help us focus on Him so that we can enjoy Him more.

God has made Elaine happy and uses her in a tremendous way at the mission, in the community and in three Oaxacan prisons.  She is an artist and has  painted many beautiful pictures and murals that inspire everyone here at the children’s home.  She received a cochlear ear implant almost three years ago and partial hearing has returned to her life.  That helps her to teach art classes at the mission school.  She also has a sewing talent and ministry that reaches out to poor and incarcerated women, both physically, with quilts, and  spiritually, with words that flow from her compassionate and joyous heart.  She glorifies Him and enjoys Him in many different ways everyday.

Thinking about Elaine and her spiritual journey, I was  reminded of  two different scripture passages from the book  of John.  One  is  from chapter nine, the account of the man  born blind.  In those days, most Jews thought that physical maladies  were a result of sin.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned?”

Jesus told them that the blind mans affliction was not a result of sin.  He was blind  all  his life so that one day the master healer, Jesus himself, would come along and restore his sight, and that God would be glorified through the miracle.  Surely, the man who could now see, glorified God and enjoyed Him forever.

I also thought about John 15, where Jesus speaks of God the Father as a gardener of a vineyard.  Jesus says the  gardener cuts off every branch that bears no fruit.  It is a basic principle of horticulture that to get more, you cut more.  I do  most of the gardening and landscape maintenance here at the mission.  While we don’t have any grape vines to  prune, I am constantly pruning roses and other flowers in order to get bigger and better flowers.  Lately I have been pruning some overgrown citrus trees in order to get more, high  quality fruit.  In  the same way, God prunes things from our lives, in order that we may produce more fruit – fruit of the Spirit.  In the case of  John 15, the spiritual fruit in question is JOY.  In verse 11, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  God loves us and wants us to be happy, and many times He  prunes away one aspect of our live to ultimately produce more joy fruit in  our  lives.

Elaine  misses her ability to hear perfectly.  Daily her thoughts turn toward heaven and the time that  her hearing  will  be restored.  In the meantime, she  thanks God for the gifts he has given her and the compassion she is able to show others who have suffered loss.

Art

When I first met Art, he was dying of a brain tumor.  He was a middle aged man, gray hair, balding.  He had once been an active Episcopal priest.  I met him at a Lutheran church that I had just begun attending in Northern California.  As I recall, he told me a joke.  He loved to tell  jokes.  It was hard for  me  to understand him, because the brain tumor had caused his speech to be a bit slurred at times.  He also had trouble with his sight, and needed a cane to get around.  All of this didn’t stop him from enjoying God and  telling jokes.

He told me about the time he told God a joke.  Immediately afterward he said he was plagued with guilt.  Who was he to be joking around with the Almighty, Holy God.  He was in turmoil, he told me.  He prayed.  He cried.  He begged forgiveness.  He repented.  After some time in this anguished state of mind, he heard a voice.  The voice said, “Art, tell me another one.”

I think that because of this experience with a God who likes to laugh at jokes, Art began bringing much joy and mirth into peoples lives by telling  jokes and funny stories.  It didn’t matter so much that you couldn’t always understand him or get the punch line.  What mattered was, here was a man who believed that God loved him and wanted him to be happy, despite his painful circumstances.  As a result of the joy he experienced, he naturally wanted to spread the joy, and the best way he knew was telling jokes and hysterical stories.  After I gave Art my email address, not a week went by that I didn’t receive at least one new joke or funny story.  I always laughed and thanked God for Art.  I miss him.

Anita

Anita was born into poverty.  She was born at home because her parents couldn’t afford a hospital.  She had a brother that was stillborn.  One of her sisters died at six weeks, and another who died  before her tenth birthday.  Her youngest brother has Downs Syndrome.

Anita is a lady who suffered much as a young girl growing up poor in Mitla, Mexico.  Her parents couldn’t afford a house, so they lived with an oppressive grandmother who treated them like servants or slaves.  When that environment became too much for them, they decided to  move to a small piece of land they owned on the edge of town.  They constructed a “house” of bamboo sticks and a tin roof.  Some days all they had to eat was tortillas with a bit of salt or pumpkin seeds  for flavor.

Their only hope, so it seemed, lay in the syncretistic, Catholic religion that combined Christian orthodoxy with ancient, pagan, Zapoteco traditions.  They prayed to saints, built a shrine to dead loved ones, and put out offerings they couldn’t afford , to celebrate the “Day of the Dead.”  All of this brought nothing to their souls by way of peace, joy and  happiness.

Fortunately, protestant missionaries lived nearby, and helped Anita and her family financially by giving them jobs.  More importantly, they helped spiritually by giving them the gospel, the good news, that God loved them  and wanted them  to be happy.  One by one, Anita and her family gave their lives to Jesus.  One of the happiest days of Anita’s life was when she surrendered to God and embraced His love.  The  burdens  and oppression she had suffered all her life,  lifted away.  She felt light as a balloon.  She felt she was floating on air.  And oh the joy that flooded her soul.

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Anita, The Happy Cocinera

Anita is my wife.  I met her my first day at the mission.  She is an  incredible cook and was working in the kitchen at the time.  The first thing I noticed about  her was her smile and sense of humor.  My Spanish wasn’t so  great  then, and I didn’t understand half of what she said, but I did understand that she was glorifying God by enjoying Him!

We married two  years later, and she continues to  light up my life, our daughter’s lives, and all those at  the mission, with her cheery attitude, generous giving of herself, and her contagious sense of humor.

I thank God everyday for this ray of  heavenly sunshine that He  has shined  in my life.  I also thank God for the inspiration of Elaine and Art, people who  show  me how to  enjoy God in the midst of unpleasant life situations.  People who know that God loves them and wants them to  be happy.

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“One day our Sovereign Father and Friend will allow us to grasp His reasoning.  Until then, we must trust Him.  He is filled with love for you and me, and He uses the things we don’t understand to bring us closer to  Him.”  Letter from Bob Vander Plaats to his severely disabled son – from his book Light From Lucus.