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Have you ever read a passage of scripture dozens of times and thought you reallyfive loaves understood it, and then upon reading it one more time, you get new revelation that you never had before?  This happened to me about a week ago.  I was reading John’s account of the multiplying the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-15).  The words of Jesus seemed to jump off the page. He asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”. The passage says Jesus was on a mountain with his disciples and Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd approaching when he asked the question.  A number of things grabbed my attention.  Jesus was having a private time with his disciples, trying to escape the crowds.  Perhaps he was teaching them about the love and power of the Father.  Now approaches the intrusive hordes.  Thousands of people are streaming toward him.  Instead of complaining about the interruption, Jesus sees opportunities.  A great object lesson for the disciples.  Also an opportunity to once again show people how God loves them and wants them to be happy.  He sees both the physical and spiritual hunger of the people.  So He asks the question, “Where shall WE buy bread…?  The passage indicates that He already knew what he was gonna do, but wanted to test the disciples.  He had no intention of Buying Bread!  But he knows what humans natural impulses are. Many times our first response to problems is to throw money at them and they will go away.  Philip thinks about the question and answers Jesus, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Money was not the answer.

I love the question, “Where are WE…?”  Jesus didn’t ask “Where are You gonna buy bread?”, but “Where are we?”  Jesus didn’t ask, “What should I  to do about this need or problem?”  Jesus says WE.  When we face incredible situations, as Christians, we can be sure that Jesus is cooperating with us to solve the problem, if we resolve to cooperate with him.  Not only with me personally, but With the Community of Faith that I am a part of.  All of the disciples were included in Jesus’ question.  Andrew piped up saying, “Here is a boy with two Small fish and five Small loaves of bread.” Andrew, like many of us focuses on the smallness of the resources at hand, the small fish and bread, rather than the Greatness of God who created the fish and the bread. Just like us today – focusing on the big problems rather than our Big God.  God wants to step into our big situations and cooperate with us in meeting felt needs and spiritual needs.

Most people have forgotten about the two big earthquakes we had here in Mexico about a month ago, but a lot of people are still suffering from them.  A week ago the Children’s Home where I cooperate with God in Oaxaca, Mexico,  sent down a few adults and some of the children with a trailer full of food and water and other material to help those whose houses had been destroyed . This week an 80 year old brother and his wife, Enrique and Elvira, who lead the prison ministry, were given a large monetary donation to help a suffering church in Chiapas, and they are there now, delivering not only the money, but spiritual direction and comfort as well.  The brother, Pedro,  who took the load down last week, noticed the people had no place and no way to shower , so he worked all week rigging up a shower system with a huge water tank.  He left early yesterday morning to deliver it along with more supplies.

Thinking about Christians responding to needs, I read in the news about different churches in Santa Rosa, California, helping out people who had lost everything due to the fires. Same with churches, Christians, Communities of Faith, helping the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.  All over the world, Disciples hear Jesus asking them, “What are WE gonna do about this situation?”  And all over the world, disciples are joining hands and hearts with their brothers and sisters and with God, to meet felt needs, and in the process, they are meeting even greater Spiritual needs.

What a story, human need, the loaves and fishes and disciples and compassion and power and God!  A never ending story, at least on this side of eternity!

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The most significant aspect of the Happy Kingdom of God is LOVE.  I read in my morninglove and hate devotions Psalm 147.  Verse 11 says, “the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”  It all starts with the Kings love for his subjects.  For his children.  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).  The King is a merciful Savior.  “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4,5).

When our spiritual eyes and hears are opened to this marvelous love, our natural inclination is to attempt to love  God back with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  We know we will be happier if we do that.  We fail at that attempt everyday, but the fact that we desire to love God with all of our being is what sets Christians apart from non-Christians.  Jesus teaches us to pray to our loving Father everyday,  “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.  And in great love and mercy he does forgive us.

What about hate.  With our loving God is there room for hate?  Actually there is.  The Bible tells us that God hates!  What does he hate?  Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things that God hates, seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes

a lying tongue

hands that shed innocent blood

a heart that devises wicked schemes

feet that are quick to rush into evil

a false witness who pours out lies

and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”

Also Psalm 5:4-6

“For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;

with you, evil people are not welcome.

The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.

You hate all who do wrong;

you destroy those who tell lies.

The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.” 

Some people say God loves the sinner but hates the sin.  According to these passages God hates some people – A false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.  I live in a Christian community and I can understand why God would hate these two types of people.

He also seems to hate all who do wrong, according to David in Psalm 5.  Then he must hate me, because sometimes I do wrong.  But David goes on to say in verse seven, “But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.”  He seems to be saying that what is your hearts desire is important.  In fact it makes all the difference.  If your heart desires to do wicked, evil, wrong things, then God hates you.  If your heart desires to fear and show reverence to God, then he loves you.

We should love the things God loves and hate the things God hates, if we want to be Godlike, if we want to honor and glorify Him and enjoy Life in the Happy Kingdom.

 

 

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“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.”

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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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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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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