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“Because they love me”, says the LORD, –

I will rescue them

I will protect them

I will answer them

I will be with them in trouble

I will deliver them

I will honor them

I will satisfy them with long life

I will show them my salvation

Psalm 91

 

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Now that’s a delightful thought.

“Give us this Day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.  Deliver us from the Evilsalvation One; save us from the time of trial.”

In Christianity we talk about salvation.  It’s not uncommon when one Christian meets another Christian for the first time, to ask, or to be asked, “When we’re you saved?”  Sometimes, when asked this question, I want to say, “Today.”

Of course we understand the meaning of the question – When did you begin to trust in Jesus with your life and experience salvation from Sin?  Some people can remember the day and hour that they were “saved”.  Other people, like me, can’t remember an exact time or place that “salvation” occurred, because we were brought up in the faith and as far as we can remember, we always believed that God loved us and that Jesus died for our sins and rose again so that we could have eternal life. That was me.  Sure I remember a time when I was about five years old and said “the sinners prayer” at Vacation Bible School, but I trusted in God’s saving grace before that, even though I had never verbalized it in such a formal way.  Later at age eight an evangelist came to our little farmhouse in Colorado and talked to my parents and my sister and I about “salvation” and once again I prayed a prayer that he wanted me to pray, which I prayed as sincerely as I could and seemed to make everyone happy.

Some people are looking for a great emotional experience when they talk about salvation.  I had one of those as well at Summer Bible Camp one year when I was about 12.  I cried and then felt spiritually “high” for about a week afterwards.  It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.

Some years later I began attending Bible College and experienced other spiritual, emotional and mentally transforming times that had, to various degrees, an impact on my life.  In one sense or another, these were all “salvation” experiences.  I was “saved” each time.  Sometimes I was saved from Sin, other times I was saved from sins.  The ultimate Salvation is being made righteous in the sight of God.  Other times salvation is a changing of a wrong attitude, or an incorrect perspective on some aspect of life.  Sometimes we are saved from an unforgiving spirit. In short, some of us need to be saved everyday!  Especially me.

The greatest commandments are not things we shouldn’t do, but things we should do.   “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind soul and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we disobey God’s commandments we sin.  Not a day goes by when I am apathetic in some way or another to those around me.  Not a day goes by but that I turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the needs of my wife, children, brothers and sisters in Christ, or strangers that cross my path.  Many times I am much more like the priest and levite that ignored their fellow man in need, than I am like the good Samaritan who showed compassion on the poor man lying naked in his own blood along the road.  By neglecting my neighbor I am also neglecting God  and disobeying his commandment to love him with my entire being.  Truly I need to be saved everyday.

Martin Luther has said that we are continually struggling against the World, the Flesh and the Devil.  That is why Jesus taught us to pray daily to be delivered from the Evil One.  Satan prowls around like a hungry lion, seeking to destroy and kill us- mentally, spiritually, socially and physically.  Our flesh and the world are bent toward sin, thus when we pray to be saved from the time of trial, we are praying for God’s power and intervention in our daily lives.  We are asking him to maintain a hedge of protection around us, our family and our community of faith.  Indeed we need salvation everyday.

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Oh, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
I’m still a man in need of a Saviour

Charlie Peacock

Elaine

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

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Happy Children Playing
Artwork by Elaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art

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

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

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

Anita

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

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

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

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

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Anita, The Happy Cocinera

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

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

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

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