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happy9

 

“How much stuff do you need to be happy?

“I don’t know.  How much stuff is there?

(From VeggieTales – Madame Blueberry)

 

I have been reading Timothy Keller’s new book, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  Here are some quotes from him and others about happiness.

“Studies find a very weak correlation between wealth and contentment, and the more prosperous a society grows the more common is depression.  The things that human beings think will bring fulfillment and contentment don’t.  What should we do then, to be happy?”

 

‘Wealth, power, and security – the external goods of the world – can lead only to a momentary satisfaction, which fades away, leaving you more empty than if you had never tasted the joy.”

“Philosopher Alain de Botton says that loving relationships are fundamental to happiness.”

“People find more pleasure in working toward a goal than they experience when they actually attain it.” (Haidt – Progress Principle)

“The functional cause of our discontent is that our loves are out of order.”

“Augustine believed all sin was ultimately a lack of love.”

“The unhappiness and disorder of our lives are caused by the disorder of our loves.”

“The ultimate disordered love, however, and the ultimate source of our discontent, is failure to love the first thing first, the failure to love God supremely.  In his Confessions, Augustine prays to God: ‘For there is a joy that is not given to those who do not love you for your own sake ….This is happiness and there is no other.  Those who think that there is another kind of happiness look for joy elsewhere, but theirs is not true joy.  Nevertheless their will remains drawn towards some image of the true joy.’ ”

“We were created to know this joy by loving and glorifying God preeminently.”

“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  Augustine

“If you love anything more than God, you harm the object of your love, you harm yourself, you harm the world around you, and you end up deeply dissatisfied and discontent.”

“Of course, not even the strongest believers love God perfectly, nor does anyone get close to doing so  Yet to the degree you move toward loving him supremely, things begin to fall into order, into their proper places in your life.”

“What matters most for pleasure is not the simple impact on our senses but what it means in relationship to other persons who matter to us.”  Paul Bloom – How Pleasure Works

“Attachment to God amplifies and deepens enjoyment of the world.”  It does not diminish it.     Miroslav Volf

“Don’t love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction.”

happy7

 

You are a forgiving God,

gracious and compassionate,

slow to anger and 

abounding in LOVE.

Nehemiah 9:17

I cooperate with God in a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We currently care for about sixty needy child children.  Most of them come to us from desperate situations.  Many have suffered abuse of one kind or another.  Others come from dire economic situations.  Some have no parents or one or both of the parents are in prison.  They are all needy in one respect or another.

The staff members at the Home For Needy Children are there primarily because they recognize the need of the children and want to help meet their needs.  Therefore we have house parents, cooks, a pastor, an accountant, maintenance workers, administrators, school teachers and even a gardener (me).

Occasionally someone comes to help, but in the long run it becomes apparent that he or she needs as much help as some of the kids at the home.  Some are asked to leave.  One former administrator spoke at our morning devotions and felt the need to remind the adults that this was a home for needy children, not a home for needy missionaries.  It was a  clever line and spoke to the reason why one missionary family had recently left.

That event occurred many years ago.  I have occasionally thought about it and the idea of “needy missionaries”, chuckled and continued my job.

In the last couple weeks I have given more thought to the concept of needyness and what it really means and whether or not there is room for “needy missionaries” at a home for needy children.  One reason I have been having second thoughts about this is the Lord’s prayer.  Jesus wanted people to learn how to pray correctly; to really understand what prayer was all about, and what some of the important  characteristics of communicating with God are.  The main emphasis Jesus put on prayer was that we are all very needy.  In fact this short prayer is all about our needs.  Jesus introduces the prayer by saying that the Father knows our needs before we pray about them, and then proceeds to tell his disciples to pray for the Heavenly Father, to meet those needs.  He knows the extent of our needs, though many times we do not.

What are our needs according to the Lord’s prayer?  Holiness on earth as it is in heaven.  His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.  What we have here is a recipe for true happiness, because, after all, God loves us and wants us to be happy.  When we talk about needs, what we are talking about is the need to be happy.  If we are not happy it is because some real or perceived need is not being met.

Those first three needs are God oriented.  We need to be holy as God is holy.  We need God’s kingdom on earth.  We need to do God’s will.

The next four needs that Jesus mentions are directed more towards the Community of Faith and to individuals.  We need daily bread, which is symbolic of how need God to meet our physical needs, such as food, water and air to breath.  If God doesn’t meet these needs we die.  By the way, when was the last time you asked God for food, water and air?  I think generally we take those things for granted.  Jesus seems to be saying that is a big mistake.

The next need Jesus mentions is our need for forgiveness.  Just as important is our need to forgive others.  Of all of our needs, this need to forgive and then be forgiven is the only need Jesus repeats as important to his listeners she he finishes the example prayer.

Jesus follows forgiveness with our great need for deliverance and “salvation”.  He says we should pray, in the modern versions, for “deliverance from the Evil One” and that the Father “saves us from the time of trial.”  Satan is the Evil One who prowls around like a hungry lion, seeking to devour us, destroy us and wreak general havoc upon us and the Community of Faith.  If God doesn’t deliver us than we are dead meat.

Jesus also instructs us pray that we are saved from the time of trial.  None of us like pain, suffering, disappointments or emotional distress.  Job suffered all those things in spades!  Why?  Because God took away his “hedge of protection”.  Basically we are praying for God to maintain that hedge of protection, so that we don’t suffer, especially like Job did.

So there it is.  Jesus points out the fact that we are all needy, weak, vulnerable  people.  We need God’s intervention in our lives everyday.  All of us are desperately in need of God’s mercy and grace, every moment of everyday.  We are all needy – children and adults alike.  Poor abused kids, and missionaries.

In other parts of scripture we learn that our greatest need that needs to be met for us to be supremely happy, is to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as our self.  One way missionaries meet these needs is to help the poorest of the poor in places all over the world.  In this sense, the Home For Needy Children where I and many others cooperate with God, is indeed, a home for needy Missionaries.

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needy children happiness

What part of the Bible comes to mind when you think of Faith, Hope and Love?  Many peoplefaith hope love 1 think of 1Corinthians 13, the so called love chapter.  I was surprised to learn the other day that this trio of virtues also occurs in nine other places in the New Testament.  What other three aspects of the Christian life are grouped together so often in the New Testament?  None that I can think of.  They must be important to God and for us that they are found so frequently.  Each one is incredibly important alone, but together they speak volumes to the life of Jesus followers.  I think of the word “synergy”.  A concept that tells us that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.  I believe that this is true with Faith, Hope and Love.

Considering this “whole” of faith, hope and love, I have some thoughts.  I think God loves us and faith hope love 4wants us to be happy.  Because of this he has opened the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians one) and this causes us to begin to understand the depths of his love (Ephesians four) and Faith comes alive in our being (Ephesians two – no, this is not a study of Ephesians).  With this Faith we begin to love God and our fellow man.  This love idea is basically a new concept for us that comes from the Greek word agape, which means to give of ourselves to those in need, without merit; those who have done nothing to deserve our love, and whom we don’t expect to pay us back.  This is the kind of love God shows humanity a million times a day, and is especially apparent in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Because of the Faith that this love fosters within us, we begin to demonstrate this kind of love toward others.  Experiencing this love causes us realize that God is not only good and generous to us in this life, but that there is an afterlife which will make us far happier than we can imagine trodding this earthly soil.  That is our hope.faith hope love 3

My purpose in this post is not to give a theology of faith, hope and love, but to give you the scriptures that mention faith, hope and love, allowing you to ponder the significance of these virtues as a whole, and let God grow the truth of these attributes in your hearts and minds.

Ten New Testament Passages With Faith, Hope and Love

1Th 1:2,3      We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Th 5:8         But we belong to the day. So we must stay sober and let our faith and love be like a suit of armor. Our firm hope that we will be saved is our helmet.

Rom 5:2-5       Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we place our faith. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God.  But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure.  And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love.

1Co 13:13       For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is love.

Gal 5:5,6         But the Spirit gives us hope that God will accept us because of our faith in Christ. If you are a follower of Christ Jesus, it makes no difference whether you are circumcised or not. All that matters is your faith that makes you love others.

Col 1:4,5         We have heard of your faith in Christ and of your love for all of God’s people, because what you hope for is kept safe for you in heaven. You first heard about this hope when you believed the true message, which is the good news.

Heb 6:10-12     God is always fair. He will remember how you helped his people in the past and how you are still helping them. You belong to God, and he won’t forget the love you have shown his people.  We wish that each of you would always be eager to show how strong and lasting your hope really is. Then you would never be lazy. You would be following the example of those who had faith and were patient until God kept his promise to them.

Heb 10:22-24      So let’s come near God with pure hearts and a confidence that comes from having faith. Let’s keep our hearts pure, our consciences free from evil, and our bodies washed with clean water.  We must hold tightly to the hope that we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us.  We should keep on encouraging each other to love and to do helpful things.

1Pe 1:21,22       And when he did come, it was to lead you to have faith in God, who raised him from death and honored him in a glorious way. That’s why you have put your faith and hope in God.  You obeyed the truth, and your souls were made pure. Now you sincerely love each other. But you must keep on loving with all your heart.

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faith hope love 5

I have a tale to tell.  It’s sad but true.  It’s about a boy I’ll call “Run Away Lou”.  Not his real name, I need to tell you. His namehappy new year has been changed to protect the guilty, which Lou definitely is, although he is is not the only culpable figure in this story of woe.

It should be a happy story, full of joy and fun.  Good times and laughter.  Lots of sun, sand and surf.  That’s the way it all began.  During Christmas break most of the kids at the home for needy children where my wife and I are on staff, have some family member that they go to stay with.  But, there are always about a dozen charges that have no place to go.  Spending a week at the mission without the other kids there can be a depressing experience, so the staff members that stay behind usually do something special for the “left behinds”.  My compassionate wife, Anita, felt God’s love strings pulling at her heart way back in August, prompting her to begin planning a beach vacation for the ones with no place to go, including Run Away Lou.  She talked to some people and found a house we could rent for five days in the seaside city of Huatulco, Mexico.

The day for departure finally came, Christmas day, as a matter of fact.  We loaded the pickup with food, beach umbrellas and chairs, backpacks and blankets.  Some kids climbed into the pickup cab, while others filled the van, and away we went, into the sunrise.

The first couple of days were like any beach vacation you could imagine.  All the kids having the time of their lives. Splashing, swimming and even snorkeling in the warm surf.  Even Run Away Lou seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.  I have a photo of him playing in the water, and a video of him helping to cover my daughter Sally with sand.  Both record him with a winning smile having a great time.

But something clicked in his troubled 12 year old head early Sunday morning.  After awhile, no matter how good things seem to be going in his life, something seems to click, to turn pleasant thoughts into bad thoughts, and Lou gets the urge to Run Away.  And unfortunately he skedaddles  with other people’s money or things in his pocket.

He was discovered missing about 5am Sunday morning.  Also missing was the wallet from a staff member, his wife’s hearing apparatus and glasses, and my wife’s cell phone.  After a quick search, the wallet, now devoid of cash, was discovered in the pickup.  Later the hearing apparatus and glasses were found behind the toilet.  So, it could have been worse, but our boy, Run Away Lou was no where to be seen that day.

Roughly the same event occurred at the mission several months before. Again, something clicked in the boy.  Who knows what it was.  Maybe thoughts of a mother who abandoned him, or a father he never knew.  Maybe something as simple as a disciplinary matter he had to endure, or a chore he never wanted to do again.  Perhaps the enticing idea of a life on the lamb with a wad of cash in his pocket.  Whatever it was that made him snap, he left his room in the middle of the night, made his way to the visitors center, stole into the room of a sleeping volunteer from the States, rifled through his personal belongings, found a lot of pesos, and made his way into the night.  And while he seems fearless in his actions, he isn’t so bright once he makes his get away.  He walked a few hundred yards down the highway to a little motel and checked himself to catch 40 winks.

Again, him and the money were noticed missing in the early morn, and the search was on.  Within an hour he was spotted exiting the motel by a staff member.  The staff member was also spotted by Lou, and Lou made haste to make himself disappear.  He was found by a governmental social service agency a couple months later and taken to an uncle.  The uncle was none to excited to receive him, since Run Away Lou had absconded with the uncle’s pesos and possessions on more than one occasion.  So there he lived until the kind and merciful folks at the home for needy children decided to give him one more chance, knowing that his chances at any kind of future would be better at the mission than with an uncle who begrudgingly took him in.  We truly loved him and wanted him to be happy, as difficult as he could be.  After all, we are a home for NEEDY children, and Lou definitely fit that description.

Naturally he was kept on a short leash after his return.  He was shown lots of love, some of it Tough Love, but he seemed to accept it all as the natural course of things.  I think he knew that he had made a big mistake and was grateful for a second chance. After awhile the leash grew longer.  He was given more freedom and more responsibilities and to all appearances was doing well.  He often hugged our administrator who made the decision to bring him back.  She’s a  Chicago woman and was both appreciative  of his affection and also somewhat skeptical of his intentions.  I don’t know if being from Chicago has anything to do with being skeptical, but she was right to be wary.  She was also in Huatulco with some friends when everything went down.

She was probably awakened from a peaceful sleep at five in the morning  when she was alerted to Run Away Lou’s  latest escapade.  The adults left the house to try and track down our little Run Away Lou.  I drove the van with Anita and another staff member.  One other staff member was in the truck.  We all had an idea that Lou would want to get out of Dodge as soon as possible.  I don’t know why we thought that.  I guess that’s just the way adults think.  Any way, it gave us something to do.  We went to the bus terminals and van transportation services that take people to Oaxaca city.  We even went to taxis.  I had a picture of him on my Kindle, and another lady had his picture on her phone.  Anita showed his face to a group of taxi drivers, and incredibly, or blessedly, one driver remembered giving the kid a drive to a nearby hotel.  He took us to the hotel, but no luck.  The clerk at the hotel said yes, this boy did try to get a room about three in the morning, but was denied.  I’m not sure why.  The clerk said the boy then sat on the curb and played with a cell phone.

Well, after some more searching and reports to the local a authorities  police, and even a radio station, we gave up and took the rest of the kids back to the beach, albeit with heavy hearts.

That evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner out on the town, thanks to the generosity of a couple of Canadian churches who have a special place on their collective hearts for the children of Casa Hogar Oaxaca.  We went back to the house with full stomachs and concerned hearts and many of us fell into a fitful sleep, Run Away Lou still on our minds and in our prayers.

Evidently we were also on the mind of Run Away Lou.  Or at least our money and our possessions.  At about the same time that he had left the house the night before, he returned to the premises, to the scene of the crime.  In the dead of night he opened the big metal gate at the entrance of the property and let himself in.

I thought I had heard some kind of sound outside, but dismissed any idea that Run Away Lou had come back.  “This is the last place he would go” I thought to myself.  I was wrong.  A few minutes later he was discovered trying to make himself invisible at the end of the bed in the room next door.  Evidently he had been going for the tablet of a staff member sleeping in the room.  The same staff member who he had robbed the night before.  He had the charger in his pocket, and had grabbed the tablet off a high shelf in the darkened room.  Somehow it slipped from his fingers and banged on the floor.  The staff member awoke, investigated the noise, and Lou crouching at the foot of the bed.  We had him back, and now had to figure out what to do with him.

Once again the administer of the mission was called.  She told us that since we had reported him to the police, that we should take him to the police station and seek their help.  We didn’t want Run Away Lou to run away, so under close scrutiny we put him in the van and hauled him off to the police.

They didn’t want anything to do with him.  The city of Huatulco had no facilities for juvenile delinquents.  Since we were legally responsible for him, he was our problem.  They suggested we return him to his uncle, or take him to the appropriate authorities in Oaxaca city.  We decided on the former course of action.  At 2:57 am he was put aboard a van service with two adult males from our group to keep an eye on him and taken to Oaxaca.  There he was met by his very disappointed house father from the mission and delivered to his uncle.

So there it is, the tragic tale of Run Away Lou.  He was guilty, once again, of stealing from those who loved him, cared for him, and wanted nothing but the best for him.  He had it all. He spurned it all.  He gave it all up for a mess of porridge as it were, like Esau in the Bible.  He gave up making sand castles on the seaside for making mudpies in the slums as C.S. Lewis once said.

I mentioned that Lou was guilty, but that others were also culpable in his demise.  How about an absent father?  What about the mother who abandoned him?  I have never faced what our young Run Away Lou has had to face.  I can not even begin to imagine the thoughts that fill his mind, that perhaps torment his thoughts.  I do know that we have dozens of children at the home for needy children who have lived through similar harsh circumstances in life and are now flourishing under the loving care and guidance of staff members at the mission.  Why sharing God’s love, mercy and Grace with Lou didn’t “take”, I have no idea.  We all hope and pray that someday, like the prodigal son, that Run Away Lou will “come to his senses” and that instead of always running away, that he will run into the arms of our loving heavenly Father.  I hope and pray that someday Run Away Lou will become Run To The Father Lou.

So why did I title this story Putting the HAPPY in 2015?  Because, in a sense, we are all Run Away Lou’ s.  We are in the care of a God who loves us and wants us to be happy, just as Lou was in the midst of a community of Faith who loved him and wanted him to be happy.  God has provided the perfect recipe for happiness.  It’s called the Bible.  We have a choice to make.  We can choose to follow and obey the commands of the Bible and live in right relationship with God, or follow the inclinations of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and live in misery.  Lou made disastrous choices and is not happy.

This New Year, let’s run into the loving arms of the Father, abide in Christ, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and experience true happiness!

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wisdom happiness

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In my last post I began to write about Christian Unity, especially as it relates to Paul’s letter to the unity1Ephesians in chapter four.  In that chapter I found ten items that are important to unity in the Community of Faith.  I wrote about five critical elements last time, and will conclude with five more this time.  The five points of Christian Unity in my last post were:

1.  Walk worthy of the calling you have received
2.  Be completely humble
3.  Put up with each other
4.  Make every effort to keep the bond of unity
5.  Love one another

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

6.  Paul goes on to mention One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.  To believe in and to have only one Lord was an extremely important idea in the time that Paul lived and wrote.  There was a major player who lived at this time who also demanded allegiance as the one Lord, and that was the Emperor.  It would have made life easier for the early Christians if they could have two Lords in their lives; Jesus and Caesar.  But Paul assured the believers in the early church that they must acknowledge and worship only Christ.  Many early followers of Christ were forced to choose one or the other, and for many they confessed Jesus as Lord in their dying breath.

In the same phrase we hear Paul mentioning One Faith and One Baptism.  For me, true Faith can be boiled down to the belief that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  When people come to that belief that they can only be truly happy by trusting their lives to God and what was accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross, then they naturally want to proclaim that fact to the world by experiencing the One Baptism, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

One God and Father of All

7.  Then Paul writes about “One God and Father of all”.  To talk about God as Father was somewhat revolutionary for the Jews and the gentiles.  The  whole Old Testament only refers to God as Father five times.  The Jews didn’t really relate to God as Father.  Jesus turned their heads and got their attention when he began to refer frequently to God as Father; not just his father, but as Father to all followers.  Paul continues with this glorious concept in most of his letters, and marks this idea as very important to Christian Unity.  The commUnity of Faith must not only believe in God in general, and look to Christ as the head of the body, but also needs to see God as the Father of the Christian family.  The Father who adopts, who loves, and who gives good gifts to his children because he loves them and wants them to be happy.

Identify and Use Spiritual Gifts

8.  Next Paul tells the church that God gave gifts to the disciples of Christ to build up the church and bring it to a greater unity.  The gifts God gave were, and still are, the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, preachers and teachers.  Unity doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Unity doesn’t happen without effort.  To grow unity in the body of Christ we need to have everyone to be first aware of their gift, then educated in the use of their gift, and finally to use their gift.  It’s like building a house.  First the carpenter has to be aware of the tools at his disposal.  The circular saw, nail gun and drill.  Then he has to know how to use the tools, and have a power source to run the tools.  Finally he has to actually pick up the tools and begin cutting boards, nailing then together and drilling holes in appropriate places.
Many Christians have spiritual gifts, but they are not aware of what they are.  A wise church or Christian organization will have classes to educate people on the spiritual gifts and determine who has what gifts.  For example, at the home for needy children in Oaxaca Mexico, where I am helping out, we are going to have a series of classes, led by our administrator, Jill Adams, to help the staff identify their gifts, learn how to use them and then put them to work to make our local commUnity of Faith stronger and more effective in ministering to the “least of these” in Oaxaca.

Speak the Truth in Love

9.  In verse 15 of chapter four, Paul writes about “speaking the truth in love”.  The number one thing that causes disUnity in the church and division in the body of Christ is the bad things people say.  Negative things people speak.  Gossip, slander, words of anger, tongue wagging lies, or speaking the truth in hate.  Paul echoes this sentiment later in verse 29, when he admonishes believers, “Don’t let ANY UNwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but ONLY that which builds up“.  Christians should never berate one another, complain about others or grumble about fellow followers of Christ.  When they speak incorrectly they are tearing down the body and not building unity.

10.  “The whole body of Christ builds itself up in love, when every part does its work.”  Paul wants all believers everywhere to know that this Unity thing is work!  Everyone and every part needs to Work at unity.  It doesn’t happen naturally, in fact most of these ten items go against our natural grain as sin bent human beings.  The World, the Flesh, and especially the Devil, don’t especially like Christian unity.  Paul goes on to talk about the great spiritual struggles we face everyday, and the need to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, and to put on the spiritual armor to defeat the Enemies and to grow Unity.  This isn’t easy.  It takes dedication, commitment and intention to accomplish.  In short, it’s Work!

Let all Christians everywhere  strive for unity.  It’s what God wants because he loves us and wants us to be happy.  Us as individuals and as a commUnity of faith.

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unity2

The weather today in Oaxaca, Mexico, is perfect. It is a gorgeous day. Lots of blue sky and sunshine. I love it. It hasn’tgranted been like this for about three weeks. It has been cloudy and rainy. This morning I was talking to God about this beautiful day, or rather He was talking to me about it. He asked me if I liked the weather today. He asked me if I was happy. He asked me if the sunshine and blue sky made me happier than normal. I answered in the affirmative each time. He asked me if I had been taking the nice weather that we had been having in March, April and May for granted. I had to admit it. While most of the U.S. had been suffering unusually cold weather and lots of snow, we here in Oaxaca were enjoying temps in the 80’s and 90’s most everyday.

 

The point that God was making is that we have a tendency to take too many good things, too many blessings, too many gifts from the generous hand of our benevolent God, for granted. We don’t always acknowledge and thank God for simple things that make us so happy, like good health, delicious food, pure water, clean air and the ability to breath it. When, for some reason, God withholds these basic goodies, we are likely to complain and grumble. The apostle Paul admonishes believers over and over to give thanks to God, not just when we are fat and happy, but even in the lean times, for God is good all the time, and he always loves us and wants us to be happy.

 

I’m convinced that many times God withholds some blessings from us so that when they return to us we are happier than we were before. Take for example sickness. I hate being down with a cold or the flu. We all do. How thankful and full of joy we are when the sickness passes and we are feeling fine once again. Sometimes we even feel worse when a loved one is ill. My daughter’s, Sally and Kelly, had fevers and were coughing a lot last week and had to miss a few days of school. No parent likes to see their children suffer in any way, especially with an illness. After a visit to the doctor and taking some medicine they were feeling fine, and so was I. I wasn’t taking their good health and health care professionals for granted. I was thanking God for both, and was (and am) Happy for both.

 

My wife, Anita, has explained to our daughter’s about the importance of thanking God for all the food we have and eating everything on their plate, be cause there are a lot of poor children in the world who search through garbage dumps for something to eat. Our youngest daughter Kelly has taken this to heart and almost always asks to pray before meals. In her simple, four year old way of praying, she thanks God for our meal and  also that she does not have to eat trash.

 

So right now I am basking in the sunshine with a heart full of joy, praising our heavenly Father for the sunshine, and also for the eternal Sonshine that floods my soul.   I also need to ask forgiveness for all the times that I take for granted the incredible goodness that is always flowing from the hand of God. I ask God to remind me, that in those times when I feel something is lacking, that He is my Good Shepherd, and that in reality, I am never in need.

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be thankful

When you think of a ruler, a  person of power, who comes to mind?  How about when you think of a shepherd?  What images come to mind.  The thoughts that come to mind when we think of Rulers and  Shepherds are normally at both ends of the human spectrum.  When we think of Rulers, we think of kings, presidents, dictators and prime ministers.  When we consider what a Shepherd is, we think of humility, kindness, gentleness and meekness.  Not normally qualities found in most Rulers.

Wouldn’t it be great, if a ruler governed like a shepherd, or if a shepherd had the power to rule?  I think so, and thankfully, the combination of the two is not just wishful thinking. I have started to read the book of Matthew recently.  In chapter two we have the story of the Magi, the Wise Men, traveling to Jerusalem in search of the one “born kind of the Jews.”  This gets King Herod’s attention.  He doesn’t like the idea of any competition to his vaulted position.  He calls together the religious leaders and teachers together and asks them where the Messiah, the Anointed One, the  great King, is to be born.  They tell King Herod and the Magi, that the scriptures prophesy that the New King is to be born in Bethlehem.  The prophet Micah had foretold hundreds of years earlier that out of Bethlehem will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

When I read that, I smiled and thought “Wlhat a great idea.  A Ruler who Shepherds.”  Then I thought about Bethlehem, otherwise known as the City of David.  David was born in Bethlehem.  David was a shepherd who became a great ruler.  David wrote the 23rd Psalm describing the LORD as a shepherd, who leads His flock to green pastures and still waters.  Who protects His flock with His rod, much as David had done when he  killed a lion and a bear who tried to harm his sheep.  This Shepherd David became the great King David, a man after God’s own heart.

Now we hear the good news of a  King which is to be born who will rule his people like a shepherd. King Herod had no intentions of ruling his people like a shepherd.  Hearing the prophecy of Micah, he was plotting to kill the new born king.  He sent the Magi on their way to Bethlehem with the instructions that when they found the baby king, they were to send word to him, so that he too could go and worship the newborn king.  The Magi found the child, were overjoyed and worshiped Him.  They did not, however, tell King Herod, as they were warned in a dream not to.  When the Magi did not report back, the wicked King Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem.  Not much gentleness and kindness in that act.

Later on in His life, Jesus lamented the lack of shepherding qualities in the secular and religious leaders of Isreal.  In the jesus shepherdGospel of Mark, chapter 6, we read that  “when he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” One of the most important things that Jesus taught the people in the Gospel of John is that He is the Good Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;                                                                                                                                         and I lay down my life for the sheep.                                                                                                                                                                        And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.                                                                                                                                                      I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.                                                                                                                                  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.                                                                                                                                                               For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

Jesus, the  King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the ultimate, supreme Ruler, gave His life for His sheep.  The Good Shepherd died, so that we might live.  Then He rose from the dead, rose to heaven in glory, and now rules His people with the heart of a shepherd, because He loves us and wants us to be happy.

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The picture of God as Shepherd demands a God who cares.  Being a Shepherd is about caring.  The motivation for God’s care is his goodness.  Allan Coppedge, from his book, Portraits of God

One day God said, “You know, I think I’ll make a billion stars today.”  He didn’t have to, but he did,

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billion stars

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Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

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God didn’t have to give us sunrises and sunsets, but He did,

sunrise sunset

Because He loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to make oceans and beaches, but He did,

ocean    beach

Because He loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to make the Rocky Mountains,

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The Grand Tetons,

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Or the Sierras, but he did,

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Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

He didn’t have to make pink roses,

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Purple bougainvilleas,

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Or birds of paradise, but he did,

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Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

He didn’t have to give us good scents, like star jasmine, citrus blossoms, and lavender, but he did,

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Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

He didn’t have to give us pineapples, mangoes, and grapes, but he did,

pineapples mangoes grapes

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to give us puppies, and kittens, and goldfish, but he did,

puppies kittens goldfish

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

God didn’t have to be born in a stable

jesus birth

And be crucified,

jesus death

And rise from the dead, but he did,

jesus resurrection

Because he loves us and wants us to be happy!

God gives us all good things,

So that we will glorify him by enjoying him forever.

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“Only wonder understands.”  Gregory of Nyssa

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Next blog – Waves and Lights

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

1.  Develop a close relationship with God.jesus

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

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

2.  Have a strong moral base.

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

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

3.  Show mercy and compassion to the poor.

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

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

4.  See your work as a gift from God.

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

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

5.  Think of others as better than yourself.

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{love and happiness} (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

6.  Say “Thank you”.thank you

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

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

7.  Embrace silence and solitude.

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

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

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

8.  Don’t talk so much.dont talk

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

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

9.  Delight in God’s Word.bible pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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