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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

In my morning Newcomer Refugee class, I currently have a student from Burma, one of The Karen People, and some Yazidi students. They all came here as refugees seeking freedom and safety. Yesterday we talked about the 4th of July and what it means. They all understood the word Freedom.

For my Karen student, freedom means not worrying about the military dictatorship that took over Burma which caused her parents to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand. My student was born in the refugee camp and has never seen her native homeland.

For my Yazidi students, freedom means being safe from the murderous criminals who were committing genocide. It also means they are free to practice their religion without being oppressed or discriminated against.

Freedom is so precious and yet taken for granted by us Americans. We do not have to worry about government troops or police coming into our churches to arrest us, not yet anyway. We are free to practice our faith or to not practice any faith. We do not have people with weapons pointed at us telling us what we must be.

I appreciate my freedom here in America. There is another freedom I look forward to even more than the freedom I have here. It is the freedom from the effects of sin in this world. For now my citizenship is U.S. citizenship. The day will come that either I die or Jesus comes back for us that I will more fully realize what the bible says- “but our citizenship is in heaven.” Only by God’s grace, I have been granted citizenship in heaven. I do not deserve it.

As I help refugees and immigrants here in my hometown, I am constantly mindful that I have dual citizenship- U.S. and heavenly. My desire is to help my newcomer friends with their new lives here in America. My desire is to also show them the love of God, whether it be in ways such as joining them for a meal, listening to them, or teaching them English. I realize that each day I can help them in a much bigger way that is not seen. I can pray for them. I can pray for them because in God’s grace, I have been granted citizenship in heaven and with that comes the birth right to talk to God anytime.

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He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” A quote from Lord of The Rings that illustrates the thoughts I normally have as a new year approaches.

I often wonder if the Lord had shown me all that was about to transpire in my life when I stepped out to follow Him, if I might have backed off out of concern or from feeling overwhelmed. At times it may feel frustrating to not know the whole answer and be told to trust, but when I think about how in Psalm 119 it says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path”, I realize it is for the best to not know all before we step out. His light for us on the path guides us step by step. A lesson I have learned, and yet still need to learn, is that it is WHO is guiding us that is more than the path itself. If I can remember that it is Jesus who loves us and died for us who is our guide, it makes the experience of the journey more worthwhile.

One example is my involvement with my Brasilian friends. My interest in Brasil was peaked by my friends Isis and Eduardo from Brasil who lived in my city while in graduate school. Through my friendship with them and others from Brasil, I had the recurring thought that someday I wanted to go to Brasil. My church sends a group there each June and after hearing there would be interest in having a teacher go, the wheels were set in motion for my first trip in June 2013. As a result of that trip, I studied Português for one year at the University of Nebraska. This led to me meeting more Brasilians at UNL, continuing to practice my Português, and best of all enjoying friendship with many Brasilians at UNL. Following the path that God has before us is a process of letting it unfold as we follow His voice. My current involvement with my Brasilian friends portrays that so well. I met some friends from there, stepped out to go on a trip there to serve, ended up studying the language, and now many friendships and opportunities are part of my life.

As I write this, I wonder, where will the path lead this year as I step out my door. Where will Jesus guide me to this year. As Bilbo said at the end of the Return of the King movie, “I think I am quite ready for another adventure.”

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The picture above is from Ouro Preto in Brasil. It is a road with many curves. It reminds me of what a professor said once. God does not always lead in a straight line. He shared this in my Pentatuch class as he showed paths of Abraham’s journeys laid over a map of the bible lands. Abraham followed God all over the place in his journey to where he was called to go. Fitting that God first said to Abraham to go to the land that I will show you in Genesis 12. In other words, get going but you won’t know where to yet, just follow my call.

Each year when New Year’s is getting close, I wonder where God will lead me, more specifically, who will God bring into the path of my life. My Christmas Eve celebration portrays what I am trying to say very well. I enjoyed Christmas Eve at the home of friends from Brasil along with other friends from Brasil. Interesting for me is the fact that I did not know any of them last year at this time.

Last year at this time, I was preparing for guests to come from Brasil, had just finished my first semester of Português, and enjoyed spending time with some students from Brasil. Early last year, one student told me of Juliano a professor from her university that was coming here as a visiting professor and asked if I would be willing to help him. We skyped together a few times and messaged on facebook. Juliano arrived in Lincoln in August. I have enjoyed spending time with Juliano and his family.

I also had the opportunity to meet Rodrigo and his family in August. Rodrigo is also a visiting professor from Brasil. It has been a pleasure to spend time with Rodrigo and his family too. Rodrigo and I began meeting for lunch at the East Campus Student Union and through those lunches I met some undergraduate students from Brasil. That culminated in hosting a Thanksgiving lunch at my church with Brasilian food thanks to Juliano’s wife Wal and brigadeiro thanks to Rodrigo’s wife Flavia. It has been my privilege to get to know the students and to have lunch with them. The week of Thanksgiving, I was able to help one of the students with her mother’s visit. That made my Thanksgiving week a memorable one.

As I sat with my friends on Christmas Eve, I reflected on the the fact that I knew none of them one year ago, and yet, I consider them my good friends. Friends that I hope to visit in Brasil in the future. I also thought about all of the students I met through them. Then I wondered something. Who will God bring across the path of my life next year? What adventures lie ahead for me in 2015?

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One of my greatest blessings in my work and ministry is the opportunity I have to meet people from so many different countries and cultures. On this Christmas Day I am mindful of the words of Jesus about God’s gift to us that we remember on Christmas Day. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” When I consider those words- For God so loved the WORLD, it causes me to think about my friends living in Lincoln who are from many different countries and my friends I have met in my journeys in several countries

It is my wonderful privilege to have the opportunity to share God’s love with my international friends. Yesterday I went to Christmas Eve service with friends from Brasil and then I shared Christmas Eve dinner with friends from Honduras. In the past I have shared Christmas in Romania, and with friends from Brasil, Mexico, Korea, China, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Vietnam. Honduras, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Hungary, France, Taiwan, Burma, and El Salvador living here in Lincoln. Every time I have shared Christmas with my international friends I think about how each culture is unique and yet they all share one thing in common. God loves the people in all cultures and countries.

God is our artistic creator who created all of us. We, His creation, were alienated from Him because of our sin. God had a  plan to bring us back to Him. He sent His very best, His one and only Son. Jesus is God’s gift to us. A gift sent to show us God’s love.

Merry Christmas

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When I reflect on the resurrection of Jesus, Mary Magdalene always comes to mind. Though we do not know much about Mary Magdalene, the fact that the honor of being the first to see Jesus after His resurrection shows a lot about Jesus and us, about God and us.

There are various stories about Mary Magdalene. Some will say that she was a prostitute. The only thing that we know with certainty is that Jesus healed her of demonic possession. In Luke chapter 8 we see that Jesus delivered Mary of seven demons. We know that Mary Magdalene became a follower of Jesus after He healed her and that she was part of the group that was close to Jesus. She even spent time with Mary the Mother of Jesus.

We also know from John 19 that Mary Magdalene was one of the people who stood at the cross of Jesus and watched Him die. It was an intensely emotional time for her to see the man who rescued her and gave her a new life die on the cross. Then came the first Easter Sunday morning. She was emotionally distraught thinking that someone had moved the body of Jesus because when she came to the tomb, His body was gone, but His burial cloths were still there. She saw two angels who asked who she was looking for and after she tells them she is looking for her Lord’s body, she turns around. Jesus is standing in front of her and asks who she is looking for. Her eyes were filled with tears, she is distraught and can’t think straight. She doesn’t recognize Him at first and tells Him she is looking for her Lord’s body and to please tell her where it is. Then Jesus says her name. When Jesus says, “Mary”, the sound of His voice snaps her into the reality that the man she mistook for the gardener is Jesus. She cries out, “Rabonni” and hugs Him. He tells her He must ascend to the Father, but to go tell the group that He is risen.

It was no coincidence that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene. There was never any coincidence in anything Jesus did while He was on earth. His every action and teaching had a purpose behind it. By appearing to Mary first, a woman who He had delivered of seven demons, a woman who was in the lowest part of society before she met Jesus, Jesus shows that God’s love is for all people no matter where they come from in life. God’s life changing power and forgiveness are for all people.

By telling Mary to got tell His followers, Jesus tells her to be a witness. He gives her an assignment that in that culture should have been for a man. Even today in some cultures the testimony of a woman in court does not count as much as a man’s. Jesus gives her an assignment to go tell, to go be His witness. This shows me that in Jesus all people are equally loved, valued, and that in Jesus all people are to be respected.

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Good Friday and Easter Sunday deservedly receive a lot of attention. They are the pivotal events in not only Christianity, but also in History. On Good Friday we remember His sacrificial death for us. On Easter Sunday we remember how He defeated death for us through His resurrection. But what about the day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? The day when Jesus’ body laid in the tomb. His followers were in despair. They had lost hope. They thought it was all over and done with and their beloved leader was gone forever.

I have been to the funerals of loved ones and friends. Looking into a casket is perhaps the most solemn experience we face in this life. That and watching a loved one die. I was with my father when he died. He died while I was reading from the bible to him. When my father died, I did not despair. That was because over a year before he died, I was with him while he made peace with God by trusting in Jesus. I had so much peace about where my father went to that I taught my class that evening, but I had the benefit of knowing the rest of the story which is that Jesus conquered death through His resurrection.

There are other moments in life that might we feel all hope is lost. We look at our life obstacles and wonder if there is anyway that we can find that job, get out of debt, experience our loved ones finally getting their life turned around, recover from an illness or any other of life’s seemingly unending problems. We at times are like the followers of Jesus on that Saturday between the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is as if we are on the outside of the tomb lost in despair.

I often wonder how His followers felt that Saturday. What it must have been like for those who washed His body and prepared His body for burial. They had forgotten about how Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead only days before Jesus entered Jerusalem. They had forgotten how Jesus had told them that He would die and that He would be raised from dead. They had lost hope. We do the same thing. We lose hope even though we have the rest of the story. We know that Jesus defeated death. His resurrection proves that He has power even over our worst enemy. When we face life’s difficulties, it is too easy for us to lose hope and not keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

On this Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, I would like to encourage you to think about your problems and then remember that He has all power. His resurrection is the proof that we too will one day enjoy the benefits of heaven, and also that He does have all power. He is more than able to help us to overcome our difficulties.

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It seems appropriate to reflect on Mary the mother of Jesus on Mother’s Day and on her life. She is a great example of living for God for all of us not only for mothers, but I think mothers can especially relate to some things we know about Mary.

Think for a moment on how it all started for Mary. An angel appeared to her when she was a young virgin to tell her she was chosen by God to have the baby Jesus who would be the Savior of the world. She was frightened at first, but after  being reassured by the Angel Gabriel of God’s favor for her, she said yes to God’s plan even though it meant difficulties for her. She trusted God to protect her and take care of the possible risks, such as the fact  that was a woman who was engaged but not yet married to be found pregnant could have meant being stoned to death.

When Jesus was born, she gave birth in a stable for the animals. She went through the pains of child birth with animals standing around. She had to place her newborn baby in a manger which was a feeding trough for animals. It was a very humble way for her baby the Savior of the world to be born. However, some shepherds came to visit to tell her and Joseph about the angelica choir that announced the birth of Jesus to them.

Then when Jesus was 8 days old, Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to the temple to present Him to God. An old man Simeon who was a prophet took the baby Jesus in his arms and thanked God for letting him see Jesus. He then spoke to Mary and Joseph about how Jesus was the promised one from God. He said something to Mary that no mother would want to hear. He told her, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” On a joyous day of presenting her baby to God, Simeon spoke of her suffering as Jesus suffered.

Then she had to flee with Joseph and baby Jesus to Egypt because King Herod wanted to kill baby Jesus. She experienced life on the run as a refugee with a baby in her arms. About 33 years later, she was there when Jesus died on the cross watching His torturous death unable to comfort Him.

Mary said yes to God’s plan and agreed to be the mother of Jesus. She did not know everything that was in front of her in life, but she accepted the call of God to be Jesus’ mother and to love Him and care for Him. She loved Him even though it meant risk to herself just like some mothers do when they become mothers. She experienced the joys of seeing the wonderful things Jesus did just as many mothers rejoice in the accomplishments of their children. She was there when He died on the cross watching Him suffer just as some mothers who have the terrible misfortune if watching their children die. Through all of these things she was His mother which means she loved Jesus in a way that no one else ever will. She is a great example for all of us, but on this Mother’s Day my hope is that any mother who reads this is encouraged by Mary’s example.

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