Being A Bridge

With today being the first day of fall in the U.S., yesterday in my morning class we talked about fall. For some of my students it is their first time to experience fall in a northern country. I have students from Burma and Guatemala who have never seen leaves change color like they will here in a few weeks.

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Part of my role for my students is to help them understand life in America which includes things like understanding changes in seasons. One thing I start to do is look at their feet this time of year to see if they are wearing sandals or shoes because if I see them wearing sandals it leads to one question, “Do you have shoes?” I ask them that in private to make sure they are ready for the colder weather that will come soon.

For my students, I am a bridge for them for understanding their new country and a guide for preparing for life here.

As a Christian I try to remember that for people I meet I can also be a bridge for them for knowing about Jesus.

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I love the saying that there are five gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and you. Many people have never read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but they know us. We can show people Jesus by how we treat them, how we live our lives, and by sharing Jesus with them.

I try to remember what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

If we profess to be a Christian, then we are an ambassador, a representative of Christ to a suffering world in desperate need of our Savior. Being an ambassador of Christ is not an option if we are Christians. It comes automatically with being a Christian and Jesus expects us to represent him to a suffering world. The only choice is whether we choose to fulfill our privileged role of ambassador with how we live our lives, by praying for those who don’t know Jesus, and by sharing Jesus with others.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

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Empowering Others

I hadn’t planned on posting today because with my evening classes finishing up last night, it feels like time to relax, unwind and just be for a day. But I had a wonderful conversation with a young woman from Iran that got my mind to kick in, so here we go.

My young friend is from Iran and from a minority group that did not have rights because they are not part of the majority group religion. She came here three years ago speaking little English. She worked hard in high school, graduated and now is in college. That in itself is impressive considering she is studying in her 3rd language.

I know her parents, grandparents, sister, and  brother. In a way I feel her family is family for me. I have helped a few times to study for her Spanish class, her 4th language, and we talk about college. I already admired her before today, but watching her today gave me even more respect for her.

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She needed to get a financial aid situation taken care of with the school. I offered to go with her, but she was hesitant. Then she called to check if she should make an appointment. She had the phone on speaker, so I could hear the other end of the conversation. She was able to get the problem taken care of. I listened as she took care of the problem. She handled it perfectly with the right amount of assertiveness while also showing respect to the person she was talking with.

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When she finished her phone conversation, I told her how proud I am of her. I told her she handled it well and that I believe she can handle things well and if she ever needs my help to let me know.

This scenario today is a good example of how I have learned to step back and empower but not try to enable people to stay dependent on me. Empowering others means to help them have the ability to handle things without me, to teach them how to handle things or offer advice, but to step back and let them handle it.

The only person we should ever be totally dependent on is God. Yet God empowers us. There are so many wonderful examples of Jesus teaching and training his followers to empower them.

At the end of our time together, I shared with my young friend that I am proud of her and admire her for the person she is. I encouraged her to never let anyone take her power away from her and reminded her that she has rights here. I told her that I hope she continues to be the confident young woman she is, and will be a confident woman all her life. I also shared with her that if she ever needed me, just let me know.

I am not sure how many others will read this today, but I am writing for small audience, my young friend and her mom.  My young friend knows who she is, so let me say again- I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!!

 

You Matter to God

(This post deals with the issue of suicide. If that is a trigger for you, please do not read it. If you are struggling, please call 1-800-273-8255)

A friend of mine on facebook posted a picture of an adult lion looking back at his lion cub with a caption of, “I thought about quitting but then I noticed who was watching.”

I loved it because it reminded me of myself. Living with autoimmune problems and persevering through other trials in ministry, there are times I have felt tempted to quit, but then I thought about those the Lord has connected me with.

This past June I experienced a flare up and prayed about it. In my prayer, I shared with the Lord that I wanted him to take me home to heaven. I was tired of pain, tired of many things, but then he reminded me of those he has brought into my life to share his love with and the truth of what Paul wrote in Philippians 1 hit me:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

I share this because I can understand the feeling of wanting to give up. I wasn’t suicidal myself, but understand the feeling of wanting to quit. I share this because September is suicide prevention month. People who contemplate suicide often feel there is no solution for them, no hope for them, and that they are a burden to others. Their emotional/psychological pain is so bad that they feel ending their lives is the only choice.

I will never forget September 2011. There was a group of about 25 young people from Vietnam that I helped between 2007 and 20014. All of them went on to higher education except one. One of them, a 19 year old girl, completed suicide in September 2011. I will never forget the pain her loved ones experienced. Her funeral was one of the saddest experiences I have ever had.  She is always on my mind. It is like what Jesus talked about regarding the lost sheep in Luke 15:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

The lost one is always on our mind. I would do anything if I could go back 7 years and go to her house to stop her.

Dear reader you are precious to God. God loves you so much that he sent Jesus to die for you because God wants to forgive you and come into your life as your heavenly father. There is always hope with Jesus.

You matter to God!!!

If you are struggling please talk with someone. Talk with a pastor, a priest, a teacher, a friend you can trust, a family member you can trust.

You can call the hotline at 1-800-273-8255 if you want to talk with someone anonymously.

I would like to share a video with you by a young woman who had thought about suicide and why we shouldn’t do it. Her name is Lizzie. She is a Catholic young woman, but for my fellow evangelical readers, please do not let that prevent you from watching. She has a beautiful story to share about why we should keep going.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

 

Our Translator with God

In my work with refugees and immigrants, I often have someone translating for us. I interact with so many different language groups that a translator is necessary for understanding what is being shared. The translator is a bridge between people who do not speak the same language.

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Did you know all of us who follow Jesus have a translator working for us all of the time?

Have you ever felt it was hard to put into words what to say when you pray?

I know I have felt that many times. Sometimes the burden is so great that I don’t know how to put it into words.

It is encouraging for me to know and to remember that I do not need to worry about having the right words to pray. I do not need some ‘approved’ prayer to pray. I do not need to sound like some eloquent speaker to talk with God.

When we pray, The Holy Spirit helps us by being the bridge between us and God somewhat like the translators help me communicate with people from other language groups, but even deeper than that. The Holy Spirit searches our hearts as we pray to intercede for us. Romans 8 says:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

This means that even if my prayer is a ‘ugh’ while trying to express what is on my heart, God understands me. When deep calls to deep as King David wrote in Psalm 42, The holy Spirit searches our hearts.

It is so comforting to know that I do not need to sound perfect for God to hear me and understand me. Understanding this frees me up in my prayer time.

Thank you for reading. God Bless/
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Never Give Up

My evening classes will finish up this week as the quarter comes to an end. I am always aware of what many of my students have been through before coming to America. Some have had to flee because of greater danger. Some have been oppressed because of being from a minority group in their country. All of them have experienced obstacles here in their new country.

Last night I showed them a video of a teenage girl with MS who ran track called Catching Kayla.  At the end of each race, her coach catches her before she falls to the ground. Her body overheats which triggers her MS symptoms until they get her cooled down. In the video she shares why she runs. She wants to fight the disease.

I asked my students what they thought of Kayla and many said she is brave. I asked what we can learn from her and one said, “never give up.” That was shared by a young man who left Iran because of religious oppression. He works full-time here and takes English classes in the evening with hopes of going to college in the future.

“Never give up”

When we who profess to know Jesus face difficulties, how much more should never give up be our attitude. Jesus is the one who has all power. Jesus is the one who defeated death for us.

Jesus, the one who has all power, is always with us. He is the one who said in John 16:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Whether we are living with a chronic illness, facing family problems, experiencing financial problems, or recovering from an addiction, we  can get up each morning to face the day knowing Jesus is with us. Jesus is with us, so we should never give up.

Thank you for reading. God Bless. Here is the video Catching Kayla.

 

Music Mondays- Psalm 42 by Tori Kelley

When I read many of the Psalms, it is obvious that King David experienced some deep valleys emotionally. Psalm 42 is a classic example of that with verses like:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?”

and

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

During times of emotional or spiritual valleys, I usually feel drawn to the Psalms. During one deep valley, I felt the Lord impress upon me to read the Psalms to him as if they were a prayer to him.

Living with autoimmune has meant dealing with low and at times no energy, living with pain every day, and coping with other symptoms.

Living for Jesus and seeking to serve him has meant experiencing trials in my life. I know what it is like to wonder how I will make it through a month. I know what it is like to feel God has abandoned me even though intellectually from the bible I understand he never leaves us.  I have been through those times that are called ‘Dark Night of the Soul.”

Whatever issue we face whether it is depression, anxiety, addiction, family problems, financial problems, or health problems, if we look only to ourselves, there is little or no hope to be found.

King David didn’t look only to himself. He also wrote in Psalm 42:

“Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.”

But it wasn’t a glib thing he was saying. He wasn’t just throwing out a quick shallow quote like some do when trying to ‘encourage’ others. He also wrote:

“As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?”

King David expresses longing for God and also expresses:

“These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul”

There are times when we just need to pour out our souls to God. I have experienced that so many times. Those moments when all I can do is pour it out to God. This is not some quick fix thing. It is pouring out our hearts to God who is our father. We might not feel we have an answer right away. We may not get one right away. But we need to come to God. We need him.

I love Psalm 42 for many reasons, so when I saw the Tori Kelly had made and performed a song based on Psalm 42, it got my attention. I enjoyed it, so I wanted to share it with you.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

 

When We Realize God Has Answered

I didn’t think I would post anything today because yesterday was so busy that I didn’t follow my usual routine of writing the evening before and publishing the next day. I spent the evening with Yazidi friends at a wedding celebration. This morning I woke up feeling a bit lazy, but went to church thinking today would be a no post day for my blog.

BUT

God has a way of getting our attention. My pastor finished a series on Jonah by contrasting Jonah’s attitude of not wanting to share with the people of Ninevah with the attitude Jesus has for all people. My pastor asked the congregation, “What if you meet someone from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, do you share with them or want them to not hear and not be saved?”

When my pastor asked that question, it hit me- God has blessed with with opportunities to befriend, help, and share Jesus with people from those places and many others. God has answered a prayer of mine many years ago. I prayed one day and asked:

“God please give me the heart of Jesus for others.”

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God has brought people into my life from all over the world. Numerous times God has blessed me with being friends with refugees and hearing their stories of suffering. When we encounter someone who has suffered, we can either have our hearts softened toward them and respond, or we can be indifferent. I am grateful God has softened my heart over the years.

As my pastor was speaking this morning, memories kept coming to mind of people from many countries God has blessed me to know. I began to pray for them.

This morning was a moment that God let me know that he has been answering that pray of mine long ago. He has taken me on a wonderful journey.

So dear reader, I would like to challenge you to pray that prayer of asking God to give you the heart of Jesus for others. If you really mean the prayer, things will happen. God knows how we are wired and will lead us to the people he has created us to reach.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

They Will Know By…….

One of my first ESL students was a woman from Sudan who had come as a refugee. Coming to a new country and culture means everything is foreign to a person and every day a person encounters new experiences. One day before our lesson, she asked me if something important happened like an important person dying or something. I asked her why she thought that and she replied that on Saturday everyone was wearing red.

It was a football Saturday and in my home city most people wear red because the colors of the football team are red and white. My student had never been in my city on a home football Saturday and didn’t know anything about American football, so she was trying to understand what she observed and understand why everyone was wearing red.

This story has served as a reminder to me that people watch us. They take note of things that we may think as common. It brings to mind a phrase from an old song:

“They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Jesus spoke about how others will know by how we live in John 17:

“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

We live in a time and culture that is obsessed with personal awareness and growth. Never before in the history of the church has so much self-help information been available. We can tend to become so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of a simple truth,

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Yes it is essential that we grow to become more like Jesus and for the fruit of the Spirit to be evident in our lives. But it isn’t just for our own personal growth and benefit. If that is our mindset than we have misunderstood.

Think about the twofold purpose of fruit. 1- to provide nourishment for the seed inside it so the seed can sprout and grow to become a fruit tree. 2- to provide nourishment for those who partake of it. So the purpose of the fruit of the Spirit includes an outward benefit for those around us to draw them to Jesus.

If a piece of fruit is left to spoil in the refrigerator and thrown out, its purpose is never realized.

So yes let’s grow in Christ, but let’s remember a big reason for that is to attract others to Jesus.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Creativity is an expression of God.

The cream can’t rise to the top if you keep stirring the pot. It’s an old saying. It is one that a mentor of mine repeated to me many times as he taught me many life lessons. He taught me the value to letting people rise and discover their abilities while giving some guidance along the way.

The moms in  my morning class come to me with varying educational backgrounds. Some never went to school as girls. Some only went until 3rd grade or sixth grade. A few graduated high school. So to begin to unlock their ability, ability they are not aware of before they come to my class, the first week of class they decorate the room. By decorating the room, they make it their room and also begin to believe that I see potential in them.

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Letting their creativity be expressed, opens them up for learning. We are all creative beings in one way or another. We may not all be musicians, artists, or actors, but there is creativity in every one. The reason I can say that is because we are created in the image of God and God is highly creative. Just look at the stars at night.

God’s creativity is also expressed in how he works in our lives. He sees in us what no one else sees. God is the craftsman at work in us. Ephesians 2 says:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I think about it in my own life. God took the son of an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother, the kid who no one thought much would come of, and has made me a person who relates with multiple different cultures, traveled to ten countries, and mentored eight people to become lead instructors in a specialized program. God saw what he could do in me and what he created me to be. He did not look at what others looked at.

I love the saying, “God does not call the qualified. he qualifies the called.” God did not look to see my qualifications before he called me to my work and ministry. He called me and then led me to get the qualifications and experience.

God never gives up on his handiwork either. He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete as Philippians 1 says.

I am so thankful that God did not give up on me.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Word Wednesday-Refuge

There is an almost irony in the fact that Jesus wants to be our refuge. In Psalm 91 we see:

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the almighty. I will say of the Lord. He is my refuge and my fortress.”

God desires to be our refuge in life as we go through the twists and turns, ups and downs in this life. He invites us to seek shelter in him.

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Why do I say there is an almost irony in the fact that Jesus wants to be our refuge?

Consider with me the fact that during his earthly life, Jesus experienced being a refugee when as an infant Joseph took him and Mary and fled to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill Jesus.

I think about what Jesus said in Luke 9:

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

So Jesus experienced going through times of no roof over his head or bed to sleep in.

The fact that Jesus experienced hardship while he was living his earthly life can give us comfort knowing that he understands. As we see in Hebrews 4 that he can empathize with our weakness. Because Jesus experienced hardship in this life, he is our refuge and he understands us.

Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Come to me all who are weary…” The person extending that invitation understand us and has all power to come through for us. The reason he gives us to come to him is that he is gentle and humble of heart.

Dear reader whatever hardship you are experiencing, Jesus understands and is fully able to be your refuge.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.